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In Simi Valley, Activist Duo Gives Neighborhood Graffiti the Brush

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Simi Valley resident Erwin Dreger hates graffiti so much he keeps a tub of paint, coveralls and a long-armed roller stashed in his van so he can immediately censor the offending scrawl wherever he goes.

“I am passionate in my feelings against graffiti,” Dreger, 58, said one recent morning, as he slathered a thick beige coating over a black-and-red jumble of marks near the Arroyo Simi.

“There are so many decent, productive people in Simi Valley, and we should not be forced to live with this garbage,” said the self-employed upholsterer. “For me it’s not enough to wait for somebody else to come along and get rid of it. I have to do something about it.”

Dreger is not alone. At the urging of the city, a growing number of Simi Valley residents are taking brushes into their own hands in the ongoing battle to keep their neighborhoods graffiti-free.

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“We’re getting more and more people coming in to get the paint,” said John Watring, assistant director of public works. “People get really excited when they find out there’s something they can do about the graffiti.”

Thursday morning, Dreger bumped into fellow graffiti buster and avid bicyclist Larry Hainline while on patrol.

The pair, who had never met before, exchanged gleeful introductions and immediately began comparing notes about graffiti styles and painting methods.

Hainline, 66, a retired electrical engineer, cruises up and down the paved Arroyo Simi by bicycle each day, taking note of the graffiti so he can return with paint.

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Dreger favors a more casual approach, throwing white coveralls over his linen slacks and shirt and setting to work immediately.

“Did you see what they did up on the bridge over the weekend?” Hainline asked. He launched into a detailed description of the scrawls marring the bridge over the Arroyo Simi, south of Royal Avenue, since reduced by him to innocuous beige splotches.

Hainline and Dreger then discussed the fresh graffiti on a nearby traffic signal, sharing their distress at not being allowed to paint the markings out immediately.

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The city prohibits residents from painting over graffiti on city streets, leaving the work to an experienced contractor.

But for private property and less visible spots like the Arroyo Simi, the city welcomes residents’ help and provides an unlimited supply of recycled paint in five-gallon buckets.

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It was anger that drove Hainline to arm himself with paint.

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“I just got fed up,” he said. “The people who paint this graffiti are subhumans, more like animals that spray their urine on every bush and fireplug to let others know they were there.”

In recent months the city has stepped up efforts to wipe the problem out.

The City Council passed a tough graffiti ordinance in January, making parents liable for up to $10,000 in damages and fines resulting from their children’s graffiti. The council also banned the sale of spray paint, etching tools and wide-tip markers to minors.

In addition, the council authorized hiring a contractor to scour the streets for graffiti. And the city set up a hot line for graffiti reports, offering a $1,000 reward to people who provide information that helps arrest and convict vandals.

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But reports of graffiti continue to climb. From January to May of 1993, the Simi Valley Police Department recorded 1,450 graffiti reports, Sgt. Rex Jones said. For the same period this year the number rose to 1,607.

Dreger remains undaunted. “Anything I can do to slow it down, anything to let them know we are not giving up, that makes it worthwhile,” he said.

Hainline agreed. “It’s a little frustrating to keep covering over the same spot each day,” he said. “But I do feel like I’m making a difference.”

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FYI

To report graffiti in Simi Valley, call the graffiti hot line at 583-6333. For more information on the city’s free paint program, call 583-6753.


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