Thursday, November 29, 2012

Vote on Oakland Graffiti Crackdown Postponed

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Thu, Nov 29, 2012 at 2:24 PM

Members of the Oakland City Council Public Works Committee held off approval of a proposed new crackdown-on-graffiti ordinance this week, sending it back to the City Attorney’s Office for what staff is calling “minor tweaks.”

The proposed ordinance is tentatively scheduled to return to the committee on December 11. However, even if the committee approves the ordinance on that date, it would not be able to come before the full council until after the first of the year.

  • J. Douglas Allen-Taylor/file photo
Under the proposed ordinance submitted by the city attorney and retiring Councilwoman Nancy Nadel earlier this fall, penalties would increase for both persons and the parents of juveniles convicted of applying graffiti to property within the city as well as property owners who fail to remove graffiti in a timely basis. Oakland also would be empowered to set up its own legal unit to prosecute graffiti as a misdemeanor.

Led by the Oakland-based Community Rejuvenation Project (CRP), a loose coalition of Oakland organizations are trying to convince the council to consider alternative solutions to the city’s growing graffiti and tagging problem, including providing art development for what they call “aerosol artists” and using wall murals to both beautify the community, provide outlets for citizen artists, and help discourage tagging. Several of those groups, including CRP, the Estria Foundation, the Rock Paper Scissors collective, and the East Side Alliance, made presentations at this week’s Public Works Committee hearing on the ordinance.

CRP staff member Desi W.O.M.E. said in an interview this week that aerosol art is being used as “a political football” in Oakland, and accused councilmembers of “a lot of grandstanding” on the issue. W.O.M.E. criticized Public Works Committee members for what he characterized as responding to the concerns of business owners at this week’s meeting, but not to the concerns of community art activists or the aerosol artists themselves. He said that the proposed ordinance was “not a long-term solution for abatement” of the problem, adding that he was concerned that “the language in the ordinance is laying the foundation for implementing a gang injunction against aerosol writers.”

“I think this ordinance needs a lot more work,” W.O.M.E. said.

But that’s not the mandate that was given to the City Attorney’s Office by the council committee. Public Works Committee members appear to be leaving the essentially punitive nature of the proposed anti-graffiti ordinance intact, returning it to the City Attorney’s office only for technical adjustments, including lowering the fines for property owners who fail to “timely respond” to city requests to remove graffiti on their property. In addition to costs of removal and inspection, property owners can be fined up to $250 for the first failure, $500 for the second failure, and $1,000 for the third failure to remove graffiti on their property under the current proposal.

In addition, at the request of Councilwoman Libby Schaaf, the City Attorney’s Office is putting in language in the ordinance to delay implementation of the new law for no longer than two months while city staff drafts “restorative justice” regulations required by the proposed ordinance.

Under the restorative justice proposal, taggers and the parents of juvenile taggers can request community service or parenting classes as a substitute for the imposed fines. Details of those alternatives needed to be spelled out by city staff.

Oakland Deputy City Attorney Richard Illgen, who drafted the original ordinance and is working on the Council-requested changes, called the changes “minor stuff” and said that it is normal for implementing regulations to be drafted by staff outside of the language contained within an ordinance.

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