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Cycle Mural Switches Gears on Graffiti-Scarred Bike Trail Wall

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Paint-splashed teen-agers Glynn Ritterbusch and Maya Trianbuck spent their Sunday morning with a group of people making their mark on a bridge support along the Santa Ana River. But this was art, not graffiti.

“I think the taggers will respect this because it’s someone’s work of art,” said Ritterbusch, 18, nodding toward the brightly colored mural of five bicyclists on the gray, once graffiti-scarred wall that’s within eyeshot of Anaheim Stadium.

Their efforts quickly earned accolades from riders passing by on the Santa Ana River bike trail, who let out appreciative shouts of “all right!” and saluted the artists with the thumbs-up sign.

“Everyone here feels like we’ve made a commitment to this,” said Trianbuck, 17, who along with Ritterbusch, had flecks of pink, turquoise, black and purple paint scattered about the hands and clothes. “I think it’s good, especially for teen-agers, to do something positive for the community.”

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The twosome from S.E.L.F. Alternative High School in Irvine are among a group of high school students--some previously in trouble for tagging--who are turning their talents to creating mural art. Their efforts are part of a growing program known as Operation Clean Slate, which includes graffiti cleanup as well as the new creations.

Mike Howard, a math teacher at Orange County Juvenile Hall who started Operation Clean State about a year ago, described his goal is to “get kids into some positive, creative ways of using their talents.”

“I just got fed up with all the graffiti,” he said. “I didn’t think there was enough going on to prevent it.”

As part of the project last summer, students at the private Claremont High School in Huntington Beach created two colorful panels with anti-graffiti messages: “Stop Tagging, Get a Life” and “Don’t Tag on Me,” a play on the historic American theme “Don’t Tread on Me.” Other students in Huntington Beach and Costa Mesa have also joined the operation.

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Howard said he’s spent at least $3,000 out of his own pocket to get the project moving, and hopes to expand the effort by attracting more sponsors.

The bike trail mural is the biggest so far.

Standing about 15 feet tall and spanning 40 feet, the mural features cyclists hunched forward, seemingly moving from the wall toward the bike trail. Fifteen students from the Irvine continuation school have spent their weekends in the past month working on the mural.

Art students at S.E.L.F. Alternative usually do an on-campus mural at the end of each year. This was something different.

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“It’s really fun,” said Gayle Beard of Irvine, an art teacher at S.E.L.F. who is co-coordinating the project. “All the bikers going by yell out, ‘Right on, that’s cool.’ It’s been a good experience for my students.”

Biker Oscar Quinonez of Santa Ana stopped near the mural on his first time by Sunday.

“It’s very nice. I hope people leave it alone,” Quinonez said.

Chaz Ferguson, the county’s graffiti-abatement coordinator, is helping the group through the complicated bureaucratic hurdles necessary to complete the mural. While the bike trail is in county jurisdiction, the bridge is part of Orange.

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The county also chipped in the paint.

“We bought a nominal amount of paint to help them get it done and do a quality job on it,” Ferguson said. “In the long run, it should cost a whole lot less than what it would cost us to paint over graffiti on this spot.”

Each time a county crew goes out to paint over even the smallest amount of graffiti, it costs a minimum of $106, primarily in labor costs, Ferguson said.

A project like Operation Clean Slate has other value as well, he added.

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“We’re showing young people there are worthwhile things to do and that public agencies are going to give them support and encouragement,” he said. “They are doing something that is a contribution to the community.”

Costa Mesa High School senior Ngoc Nguyen said she became involved “because I believed in what they are doing.”

Howard credits some of his own students at Juvenile Hall, some convicted taggers themselves, for sparking the idea for Operation Clean Slate.

“I asked them, ‘What are the better ways to use your talents,’ ” he said. “They came up with murals.”

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He’s since joined other county-sponsored anti-graffiti projects, and travels around the county talking to schoolchildren about the costs and consequences of tagging.

Some get the message, others don’t.

One former tagger, for example, took it upon himself to protect and maintain one mural, while another student involved in one of the projects was arrested for graffiti vandalism, he said.

So far, taggers have kept their spray cans away from the bike trail mural, which is nearly done. The students will be putting on a graffiti-protection finish at the end, just in case.

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Connie Tran and Chris Huilochea are among a group of Cal State Long Beach students collecting response and documenting the project on videotape as part of a film class project.

They say response has been overwhelmingly positive. Passersby say the area already looks a lot better, and they are happy to see young people helping the community, Tran said.

Most, she said, have been saying, “Every little bit helps.”


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