Attempt to slash Los Angeles graffiti removal budget sparks criticism

Kate Linthicum (Los Angeles Times) | January 8, 2011

Los Angeles city officials have long used the “broken windows” theory to justify the $7 million spent each year on graffiti removal. The logic goes like this: Safe and prosperous communities start with clean streets.

But this week the fate of the effort was called into question when the top financial advisor to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa recommended that the city slash the graffiti-removal budget in half as part of a round of short-term cuts.

The graffiti-removal cut would last through the rest of the fiscal year and would save the city $1.5 million — a critical step in balancing the city budget, City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana wrote in a report. Some City Council members have reacted with alarm, saying eradicating graffiti is both an economic and a safety imperative.

Spray-paint scares off potential investors, which keeps the tax base low, said Councilman Ed Reyes.

“We’re taking away our ability to recover and create revenue,” he said.

Reyes, whose district includes Boyle Heights, MacArthur Park and other neighborhoods with a history of gang violence, said he also worries about what more graffiti might mean in terms of crime, since gangs use it to communicate with one another.

“For gangs, essentially graffiti is like a message board for how they’re going to hurt each other,” he said.

“This is one of the few ways that we can penetrate that cycle of poverty and violence,” he said of the removal program.

Reyes said he plans to fight the cuts when the council takes up the budget proposals next week.

So far, Santana’s suggestion to cut back on the program has gotten little public support.

Villaraigosa called the proposed belt-tightening “way too much.”

“Look, programs are going to take cuts,” he said Thursday, the day after he got the report. “But you can’t decimate a program as important as that.”

The city has long paid to clean up graffiti. When he was a teenager in the 1970s, Reyes spent several summers painting over tags in Cypress Park as part of a summer youth program. But it wasn’t until the late 1980s and early ’90s, around the time that the “broken windows” theory gained popularity, that the city really began to spend money on removal.

Full article at:,0,1614348.story

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