Wednesday, March 09, 2011

PRESS HERALD

Graffiti plan calls for cleanup by property owners
Officials say it might be a challenge to pass the ordinance, which calls for $250 to $500 fines.

http://www.pressherald.com/news/graffiti-plan-calls-for-cleanup-by-property-owners_2011-03-09.html

By Dennis Hoey dhoey@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — City officials are considering an anti-graffiti ordinance that's aimed at making Portland a more inviting place to live and do business.

The ordinance would require property owners who are "tagged" by graffiti vandals to remove the graffiti within 10 days after being notified by the city. Any property owner who does not could be fined $250, and $500 for subsequent violations.

Proponents say studies have shown that the faster graffiti is removed, the less likely vandals are to return.

Members of the City Council's Public Safety Committee responded favorably to the proposal Tuesday night, but acknowledged that passing it could be a challenge.

"I do feel we need to do something," said Councilor David Marshall. "But I recognize this is going to be a contentious issue."

The ordinance was proposed by the city's Community Police Advisory Board, a group made up of residents, business owners, the religious community and educators.

It was developed in conjunction with Trish McAllister, the city's neighborhood prosecutor.

"Graffiti is a visual symbol of disorder and lawlessness," McAllister wrote in a memo that was presented to the committee. "It contributes to a downward spiral of blight and decay, decreasing property values, lessening business viability, and adversely affecting tax revenues."

McAllister said the proposed ordinance is not intended to "re-victimize" property owners, but to hold negligent property owners responsible when they ignore the problem.

The proposal says the anti-graffiti law would not be enforced from Jan. 1 to April 30 because of weather considerations.

The sale of graffiti tools to anyone younger than 18 would be illegal, and parents of minors caught committing graffiti vandalism could be held responsible for removal costs.

Committee members said the ordinance needs further tuning before it can be presented to the council for consideration. They tabled the proposal until their meeting April 12.

Also Tuesday night, the Public Safety Committee considered a request from the Police Department to have the social service agency Preble Street enforce a code of conduct for its clients, saying it would make that neighborhood safer.

Police Cmdr. Vern Malloch told committee members that Preble Street "has inadvertently and unintentionally created a dangerous environment" by promoting a low-barrier policy -- which allows Preble Street to serve the destitute and homeless without requiring clients to abide by a code of conduct.

Police are seeking the City Council's support to have the low-barrier policy changed.

"Social workers do not share information with officers and frequently will not identify wanted persons, creating a sanctuary atmosphere," Malloch said in a memo to the committee. "The establishment of a code of conduct coupled with a commitment to share information with police is what is needed."

Preble Street's associate director, John Bradley, said social workers are bound by confidentiality laws. He said Preble Street welcomes a police presence and would be willing to meet with police to find common ground.

"If this were a bar, we'd have to close it down," Marshall said, referring to the 438 calls for service at Preble Street in 2010. "But it's not. It's a homeless shelter. Obviously, we have some work to do here."

Committee members told the Police Department to meet with Preble Street and work out a more effective system for rooting out behavior that could lead to drug trafficking, intimidation or violence. Malloch agreed to return April 12 with a progress report.

In another matter, the Public Safety Committee recommended that the City Council approve an ordinance that would make it easier to prosecute the owners of "disorderly houses."

City officials say the current law is ineffective.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: dhoey@pressherald.com

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