Council adopts anti-graffiti ordinance

COSTA MESA — After months of city staff and department collaborations, research and debate, the City Council on Tuesday approved a new graffiti ordinance, one that is designed to tighten the belt on taggers and vandals.

The ordinance was adopted after a 3-to-1 vote, with Mayor Allan Mansoor voting against it. Councilman Eric Bever was absent.

Much of the vandalism in Costa Mesa is committed by taggers, who are usually minors, Officer Jason Chamness said. The graffiti ordinance holds parents or guardians responsible for their children's acts, and requires them to pay the costs of the damages to the city. It also allows the city to go after vandals to recover the victims' costs.

"One thing that I like is the whole idea of cost-recovery," Councilwoman Wendy Leece said. "In other words, the expense involved in repairing the vandalism and making the families, or the parents, responsible for that, sends a very strong message."

The new ordinance is in alignment with Assembly Bill 576, which went into effect in January. It also follows tighter restrictions by other cities throughout Southern California, including Santa Ana, West Covina, San Bernardino and Escondido, said Chamness, who works with the Police Department's gang unit.

The ordinance will also give the police chief the authority to reward those who provide credible tips of graffiti vandalism. It requires community service and gives utility companies 48 hours to remove graffiti from their facilities and equipments.

"I think that the staff really did a good job working collaboratively and trying to address all of the concerns of the different members of the community," Councilwoman Katrina Foley said during the meeting. "It is a tough issue and it's important for our community. So, I appreciate all of the really hard work that you all put into this."

The new ordinance goes hand-in-hand with the Tracking and Automated Graffiti Reporting System (TAGRS), a free program developed by the Orange County Sheriff's Department. The program tracks and shares graffiti monikers throughout the county; it has already helped the city go after vandals and recover some of its costs.

"I want to thank Officer Jason Chamness and others in the Police Department for the outstanding job they did, and finally finding a method that works," said John Feeney, a resident who closely followed the progress of the ordinance.

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