Glendale officials may take their war on graffiti vandalism to court, and legal experts believe it could be a first in the state.
City Council members Tuesday unanimously approved the city prosecutor's plan to sue two local families if they fail to pay a $350 bill for graffiti cleanup costs.
"We finally are going after these people who are destroying public (and) private property," Mayor Larry Zarian said before voting in favor of City Atty. Scott H. Howard's proposal. "We just cannot, as taxpayers, spend hundreds and thousands of dollars" fighting graffiti.
"The parents ought to get the message," Zarian said. "It is not enough to say, 'I don't know where my 14- or 15-year-old is.' You must know. And if you don't, you will have to pay the price."
The case stems from a Glendale police report, one of five graffiti-related actions submitted to the city attorney's office since April.
Investigators believe that on Feb. 25, a 14-year-old boy and a 15-year-old boy from separate families marked up a traffic signal pole and a utility box at San Fernando Road and Colorado Street. Their names were withheld because of their ages, and Howard declined to release the names of their parents.
"The facts were very clear," Howard said before the council meeting. "One of them tried to run from the police."
Both youths allegedly admitted to being part of a "tagging crew," a group of youths known to spray-paint or mark property with gang monikers. They were detained by police and eventually released to their parents. Howard said he was not aware of any further criminal prosecution.
Costs to clean-up the damages totaled $350, and a letter has been sent to both families' homes demanding payment.
In the 1992-93 fiscal year, the city spent $225,000 for its graffiti abatement program, removing an average of 62,000 square feet of graffiti per month, officials said.
In a report to council members, Howard said a longstanding civil code involving defacement of property allows public property owners to sue minors as well as their parents or guardians. They can be held liable for damages of up to $10,000.
If Glendale files suit, which could be as early as Tuesday, officials believe it could be a first in the state regarding graffiti taggers.
"No other city council in the state has come up with what Glendale is doing," said Michael Sweet, executive director of the California District Attorney Assn.
Assemblyman Pat Nolan (R-Glendale), who represents Glendale, Burbank and communities such as Silver Lake and Sun Valley, applauded the Glendale council's action and said he will encourage other cities to look into doing the same.
"I think it's entirely appropriate for the city to pursue action against their (the taggers') parents," Nolan said.
City officials say recovering the money is not as important as the lesson they are trying to teach to other taggers in and around Glendale and their parents.
"My purpose of doing this was not to embarrass them (the two boys and their families)," Howard said. "Should this case be unsuccessful, the message is we're not going to stop. We're going to come up with creative ways to remove graffiti."
At this time, Howard is only authorized to pursue a court case involving the two boys, if necessary. Such a legal action would also seek an injunction against the youths barring them from further tagging activity.
Future cases will first be brought before the council for review.
The 14-year-old suspect has told officials his parents cannot pay any part of the money, Howard told council members.
"He sees the error of his ways and is willing to work it off" through community service, Howard said.
On Wednesday, Howard said his office was waiting to hear from the other boy's family.