Community Commentary:

Sadly, graffiti is on the rise in Costa Mesa. It depresses property values, creates blight and chases away prospective home buyers and local businesses.

While we have a terrific graffiti abatement team, painting over graffiti only masks the symptoms and doesn’t cure the disease.

Rather than just complain about the problem, I suggest a three-step approach to trying to get one part of our graffiti problem under control:

I. Enforcement: We need stronger punishments for those convicted of vandalism. The city needs an ordinance, like the one passed in Santa Ana, which holds parents financially responsible for their kids’ graffiti.

Frankly, if your kids are spray-painting graffiti, you should know. Parents can no longer turn a blind eye to paint on their kids’ fingers and clothes. If your teenager is out at 3 a.m. breaking our laws, you should be held responsible.

We need to modernize our reward program, which offers $2,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone caught doing graffiti. How many graffiti cases in Costa Mesa did the district attorney prosecute in 2009? I’m not aware of any.

How many rewards were paid in 2009? I’m not aware of any.

II. Prevention: We cannot gut our youth recreation programs. Unfortunately, for some youth, idle time is often a disaster waiting to happen. After-school activities and sports programs help keep kids occupied and out of trouble.

Give kids a positive and constructive environment when parents are not around, and we will see less vandalism and crime.

III. Planning: Graffiti is not a Latino problem or a Caucasian problem; it’s a housing problem. Graffiti festers and spreads near our high-density rental housing. Just look at our problem areas in this city.

Graffiti in Mesa North, Mesa Del Mar and the Westside always occurs near the same high density apartments. I rarely see graffiti in Mesa Verde or the Eastside. Why? They have less high-density rental housing.

If my argument is correct, this is a particular problem for Costa Mesa, as we have one of the lowest home-ownership rates in the county. Over the years, we have built up a huge inventory of high-density rental housing, while not focusing on building homes that people can actually buy. These homes can be condominiums, live/work units, or standard single-family residences. They can be million-dollar homes, or low-income housing. It doesn’t matter. When people own a home, they feel a sense of connection to their community and it creates “buy-in” for the entire neighborhood.

We may never rid Costa Mesa of graffiti, but we can certainly curtail it. However, it will require changes in our policies and involvement from the community. Let’s turn the dialogue into action on this important issue.

COLIN MCCARTHY is a Costa Mesa planning commissioner and president of the Mesa North Community Assn.

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