San Jose’s Graffiti Problem Raises City Council Concerns; Hot Spots Targeted

Graffiti tag covers a mural panel in Little Portugal.

A 38 percent increase in graffiti across San Jose has raised concerns of San Jose City Council members, but any action will wait until after a detailed report is complete by the company hired to clean up the tagging.

The annual graffiti count in January showed that the number of tags had climbed from 20,285 to 40,505, with sharp surges in San Jose City Council Districts 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9. But the trend has been on the increase since,when only 129 tags were recorded across San Jose. In 1999, the city survey counted 71,541 tags.

On July 1, Graffiti Protective Coatings, a private company, took over graffiti removal services for a cost savings of $613,000. The city’s anti-graffiti/anti-litter department was cut to 3.75 positions in the current budget, a cost-cutting measure that was protested by many of the volunteers the city enlists to wipe out graffiti in their neighborhoods.

The city’s goal is to remove gang graffiti within 24 hours, and other tags within 48 hours. Julie Edmonds-Mares, acting director of Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services, said an anti-graffiti report would be coming in December with details on the number of tags, locations and how many were painted over. Another graffiti count will be conducted in January.

“There are some districts where graffiti is going up more often and staying up longer,” Councilman Xavier Campos said at the Tuesday, September 20, council meeting. His district’s graffiti tags saw a 282 percent increase from. “I’d like to see a mid-year report on the status of the new contractor.”

Even though graffiti tags decreased in Councilman Ash Kalra’s District 2, he also questioned the move to outsource graffiti services. He and Campos voted against the cost-cutting move.

“The feedback I’m getting is not good,” Kalra said about reports from residents in his district. “I think we’re going to pay more money in the long run.”

But District 1 Councilman Pete Constant pointed out that the graffiti count was taken in January, six months before GFP started work, and it was unfair to blame the new company. Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio, District 6, who supports outsourcing, said he has seen a quick response to graffiti removal when he calls in a tag anonymously.

Councilman Sam Liccardo, however, said he also has heard negative reports from his District 3 residents.

“I’ve heard frustration,” he said. “That there’s not a lot of responsiveness from this contractor. We need to take seriously the reports we’re getting.”

But he also noted that the report indicated a “significant long-term trend. The contractor is not responsible for that. “We’re in the middle of an epidemic of graffiti.”

The city is also in a financial crisis, said Mayor Chuck Reed, who pointed out the city workforce has shrunk by 1,100 in the past three years. “We’ve shrunk in a lot of areas and this is one of the problem areas,” he said. “We need to spend some time and effort to get some control over this mounting problem. But we have a lot less people to do the work.”

Aurelia Sanchez, a Spartan-Keyes Neighborhood resident, told the council she had been calling in graffiti three times for one location because it wasn’t being removed. She said she used to call just once.

“I just want this to work,” she said. “It’s important to me, it’s important to my neighborhood and it’s important to the city.”