BY DAVID A. AVILAMAY 16, 1993 12 AM PTTIMES STAFF WRITER. THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN BY TIMES STAFF WRITER DAVID A. AVILA AND CORRESPONDENTS GEOFF BOUCHER, SHELBY GRAD AND TERRY SPENCERORANGE —
Squinting into the morning sun, Chris Acosta carefully dipped his roller-brush into the smooth, white paint and surveyed the colorful scrawls scarring the school wall before him.
At one time, the wall might have been a tempting target for the 20-year-old convicted graffiti vandal. Now, painting it back to its original state is part of his penance--he is working off 500 hours of community service ordered by a judge.
The Anaheim man’s punishment is an example of how Orange County officials have begun to crack down on graffiti and the spray-painters known as taggers who increasingly are defacing the area’s freeway signs, bus windows, storefront walls and homes.
Tagging has been rising steadily in recent years, but law enforcement agencies say it exploded in Southern California during December. The National Graffiti Information Network, a Utah-based clearinghouse for municipal agencies, says the number of reported tagging incidents and requests for its cleanup tripled in the month of December.
To Orange County residents who once thought that tagging was a plague afflicting only the urban megalopolis to the north, the sudden spread of vandalism here has come as a shock.
Israel Garrigo, who owns a restaurant on Harbor Boulevard in Anaheim, says he has to paint over graffiti as often as once a week.
“I can’t afford to let it stay up because it hurts my business,” said Garrigo, 37. “It doesn’t look good.”
In Garden Grove, residents are angry that a billboard announcing a $25,000 reward for information about the murder of Police Officer Howard E. Dallies Jr. has been vandalized with graffiti.
Police and elected officials are frustrated, also. So exasperated was Anaheim Mayor Tom Daly that he recently mused at a meeting, “Maybe it’s time to bring back the public stockades.”
Most fearful are homeowners and business people struggling to protect their neighborhoods and their investments from the physical and psychological toll of graffiti.
Anxious over tagging’s spread, though uncertain of how exactly to stop it, city councils, police agencies, businesses and homeowners across the county, from La Habra to Laguna Hills, are trying to fight back:
* Thirteen Orange County cities have approved tough new anti-tagging ordinances. A new Westminster law would suspend convicted taggers’ driving privileges and make their parents liable for cleanup costs. A bill offered by state Sen. John R. Lewis (R-Orange) would allow judges to force taggers and their parents to perform 40 hours of cleanup work or face a $1,000 fine. Lewis’ bill passed the Judiciary Committee and will go to the Appropriations Committee.
* Nearly a dozen cities have posted rewards as high as $1,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of taggers, while the California Highway Patrol and other agencies have formed special anti-graffiti squads.
* The cost of cleaning up graffiti this year is expected to rise dramatically from the $1.7 million that Orange County cities spent last year. Officials--already struggling to balance budgets that have been strained by the recession--predict that costs will soar by 41%, to $2.5 million.
* In February, the County Board of Supervisors formed a special tagging task force made up of officials from the Sheriff’s Department, district attorney’s office, Orange County Juvenile Court, the Department of Education and the Probation Department. The task force, headed by Supervisor Gaddi H. Vasquez, is expected to create a comprehensive program to deal with graffiti.