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NEXT L.A. / A Look at issues, people and ideas helping to shape the emerging metropolis : A Sticky Urban Eyesore

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Just as cities begin to gain the upper hand against graffiti, a new enemy emerges: stickers.

Lampposts, street signs and storefronts that used to be the favorite targets of spray-painting vandals are now being plastered with small adhesive decals advertising skateboards, sports equipment and underground rock bands. Urban dwellers have long endured the occasional bumper stickers affixed to stop signs. But in recent months, such defacements have become increasingly common, especially in beach communities where free stickers are available at surf shops and clothing stores.

“It’s a growing problem,” said Delphia Jones, director of Operation Clean Sweep, a Los Angeles group that removes graffiti and other blight from city streets.

The stickers, she said, are “extremely difficult to remove.”

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“We use a chemical, called So-Safe, that loosens the paste then we scrape them off,” Jones said. “It’s the same chemical we use to remove graffiti. It’s a difficult and time-consuming process.”

The city of Newport Beach in Orange County spent $25,000 on removal in the past year.

“This is every bit the same kind of vandalism as tagging a wall,” said George Millikin, operations manager for Newport Beach. “The public might not pay as much attention to this because it’s not as widespread, but the decals are a big problem for us.”

Downtown Huntington Beach was hit so hard by vandals this summer that the city formed a special work crew that peeled, blasted and scraped stickers off more than 350 signs in one week.

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The city also has instructed parking enforcement officers not to ticket cars left in restricted spaces if nearby “No Parking” signs are covered with the stickers. The policy was adopted after some car owners demanded that their citations be voided, saying the stickers made it impossible to read the posted parking regulations.

Removal is costly and time-consuming. The adhesive used on some stickers is so strong that workers have damaged signs in removing them. And while painting over a graffiti-marked signpost takes only a minute or two, officials say removing a single decal can take as long as 15 minutes.

“Sometimes it’s easier just to replace the sign than to get the sticker off,” said Jim MacLean, Huntington Beach’s building maintenance crew manager.

Stickers are usually applied by teen-agers who collect them while shopping at music stores and surf shops. They also come from concerts and community events.

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Besides beach areas, neighborhoods near schools are prime targets for the new scourge. Though the stickers measure only a few square inches, residents have expressed growing irritation over the proliferation.

“It’s just ugly,” Huntington Beach Mayor Victor Leipzig said.


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