PORTLAND DAILY SUN
Property Owners Catch Break On New Graffiti Rules
Watered-down graffiti ordinance passes after fines removed
By Casey Conley
Jun 22, 2011 12:00 am
Property owners that fail to remove graffiti from their buildings won’t be fined under new rules passed by the city council this week.
But the ordinance, which passed unanimously Monday night, gives the city authority to remove graffiti from private property and charge the landowner for the work, plus a fee.
The ordinance also includes civil penalties for graffiti vandals caught in the act, offers new guidelines regarding how local stores should regulate the sale of spray cans and paint markers and gives police authority to issue citations for possession of these so-called “graffiti implements.”
People under 18 years old would also be banned from buying graffiti implements without a parent’s consent. The civil penalties come in addition to any criminal charges authorities might levy against vandals accused of writing graffiti.
The new rules take effect July 20.
Trish McAllister, the city’s neighborhood prosecutor, said yesterday that she was concerned that fewer property owners would comply without the threat of a fine.
“That being said, I definitely think passage of the ordinance last night is a great step in the right direction,” she said. “I understand the council's actions completely; they were responsive to the concerns from the public, and I truly do respect that.”
The ordinance was first introduced about six months ago to target graffiti, a problem city officials believe is getting worse. The proposal was built largely upon a similar measure in South Portland that has been largely successful without resorting to fines.
During the roughly four-month review, residents and landlords demonstrated strong support for the intent of the new rules but uneasiness about the fines.
Several downtown building owners argued that fining victims of a crime was not the right approach. Those who supported the fines, including city officials, police and some landlords, said they were necessary to give the ordinance teeth.
The final version of the ordinance represents something of a compromise.
Under the new rules, the city will send notices to property owners if graffiti is left on their home or building. The property owner would have 10 days to present the city with a plan for removing that graffiti.
If the property owner ignores the notice or fails to respond, the city could send crews to remove the graffiti and then bill the owner for the work, plus the 10 percent administrative fee. The city would need permission to gain access to the property. Failure to pay the fee could result in a lien placed on the property.
Brad McCurtain, who owns a building near Monument Square, was among those who spoke out against the fines. He said the council did the right thing by backing away from that proposal.
“That would have been very scary for real estate ownership in the city had that passed the way it was worded,” McCurtain said Tuesday, adding that the language was vague and wouldn't allow property owners to appeal the fine.
An amendment proposed by Councilor Dave Marshall to remove the fines, which ranged from $100 or less for first offenses to $500 for three or more offenses, passed 5-3.
Another amendment that called for the city to create internal policies for how it will adhere to the ordinance for any graffiti left on public property also passed.
“Using a punitive fine system in order to try to encourage property owners to remove graffiti after the property has been vandalized is not the way to go,” Marshall said yesterday.
“I am really glad the council sided with them in removing the fines so that we can work proactively with property owners to remove graffiti from private public property,” he continued.
Aside from new rules and regulations, the city is planning to launch an http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifonline database shortly that lets residents report graffiti, submit photos and provide exact address information. That system is still in the works, but McAllister said it could include an iPhone or Android app that lets residents report graffiti from their smartphones.
Officials believe the database could encourage people to report graffiti, will lead to quicker removal and also help police track patterns. If a graffiti vandal is caught, that photo evidence could lead to more serious charges against the perpetrator, authorities say.