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Hermiston Offers Solutions To Graffiti

east_oregonian | March 27, 2013 3:21 a.m. | Updated: March 27, 2013 10:21 a.m.

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NATALIE WHEELER East Oregonian

As of Apr. 25, the cleanup of graffiti on private property in Hermiston will be in the hands of property owners.

If the city’s contractor cleans it, property owners will be billed. If they don’t pay, a lien is placed on the property.

Until then, the Parks and Recreation department will wind down the task of scrubbing, painting, blasting or wiping the visual nuisance off both private and public property.

“We’re trying to do as little as possible because it’s just very problematic to do work on private property,” said Parks and Recreation director Larry Fetter.

Fetter said the city is liable for the free labor, and property owners often have unrealistic expectation of the city’s graffiti removal abilities.

The task has been tricky since Fetter’s department took over the city’s graffiti cleanup from the Hermiston police department last September. Now handing over the task of private cleanup to property owners, Parks and Recreation will also have some teaching to do.

“Every surface has a different strategy for removal so it’s just not that easy,” Fetter said. “We usually can’t really get all of the graffiti off.”

Razor blades are used to scrape graffiti off glass. Paint thinners can be used for metal surfaces. A pressure washer can help on masonry surfaces.

But the methods are rarely 100 percent effective.

There are other options, such as using the city’s contractor, who will carry an expensive blaster that uses baking soda to clean brick and concrete. According to Fetter, the city’s soda blaster was only used in about a dozen of the 70 graffiti removals last year.

There are also special graffiti wipes costing about $1 a piece — “like baby wipes,” Fetter said — available for purchase at city hall.

If all else fails, Fetter said the owner should turn to paint.

“Most of the time we end up painting over it,” Fetter said. “Even then we can’t always get the right paint color. It’s virtually impossible to return a surface to its original state.”

With new laws prohibiting the sale, use and transfer of graffiti instruments to minors, the city is trying to mitigate the presence of graffiti on the front end as well. Minors can possess graffiti instruments given by a parent or guardian on private property with the owner’s permission or for employment, school or city sanctioned activities.

According to the city’s definition, graffiti instruments include aerosol spray containers, etching devices, felt-tip pens larger than a quarter inch and graffiti sticks.

But police chief Jason Edmiston said that does not necessarily mean minors can’t possess instruments such as felt-tip pens.

“It only becomes a graffiti instrument if you intend to use it that way,” he said.

Edmiston said it will be up to local businesses to dictate how they want to enforce the ordinance, from checking IDs to keeping track of the minors they sell to.

About half of the graffiti crimes in Hermiston are committed by minors, and about 80 percent of what Parks and Recreation cleans up is on private property.

Fetter said unfortunately those looking to make a mark on property look for highly visible, hard-to-clean spots. He recommends painting fences a dark red color, rather than white, and using shrubbery to block the easy targets. There is also a protective spray available at Ace Hardware, which is offering a discount to those hit with graffiti, that washes away with spray paint.

“Taggers are looking for high contrast, high visibility and an escape route,” he said.

A guide to graffiti removal and prevention will be available on Hermiston’s website, www.hermiston.or.us.

Contact Natalie Wheeler at nwheeler@eastoregonian.com or 541-564-4536.

This story originally appeared in East Oregonian.

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