Time allowed for graffiti cleanup halved

Sara Schweid

Owners of Minneapolis property tagged with graffiti now have half as much time to clean the area before the city will step in.

A new ordinance, passed May 12 by the City Council, gives property owners and residents 10 days to remove the graffiti. If it has not been covered before the time limit, the city will do the work at the owners’ expense.

Now the Department of Public Works’ division of Solid Waste and Recycling will handle the cleanup, which allows the city to cover the graffiti if property owners do not.

Ward 1 City Council member Paul Ostrow, author of the changes, said they are important adjustments.

“Collectively, they make us far more effective in combating graffiti,” he said.

When graffiti is reported to the city, a notice is sent to the property owner by Solid Waste and Recycling, said Angela Brenny, clean city coordinator for the department.

The notice gives the owner 10 days to clean or repaint the area before a fine is assessed to pay for the city’s time covering the graffiti.

The charges are assessed against property taxes and appear on owners’ tax statements or their utility bills, Brenny said.

Fines are determined by factor including surface type, amount of damage and the height of the structure. The cost can range from $100 to $1,000 per removal, Brenny said.

Ward 8 City Council member Elizabeth Glidden voiced concerns about the burden this might place on groups such as the elderly or non-English speakers, who might not have the wherewithal to clean the graffiti themselves or pay the city to do so.

“We end up victimizing victims,” she said.

Brenny said the city is willing to work with residents who can’t meet the deadline.

“One phone call and we can have an extension in place,” she said.

She also said free removal supplies are available at all city fire stations.

Reducing response time is one of the best deterrents to graffiti vandals, said Conni Kunzler, program manager for Graffiti Hurts, a national beautification program.

“The quicker you can clean it up, the more likely that you won’t get repeat graffiti,” Kunzler said.

Graffiti vandals want their work to be seen, so quick removal often acts as a disincentive, she said.

Graffiti is a growing problem in Minneapolis, according to Sgt. Donna Olson, a graffiti investigator with the Minneapolis Police Department, who said the city sees more than 175,000 new tags, or graffiti markings, every year.

“Vandals come from all around to tag in Minneapolis, because it’s the hot spot,” Olson said. “It’s the place to be.”

Graffiti can have a negative effect on the image of a community and make people feel uncomfortable, Kunzler said.

“People see graffiti and it makes them fearful of the neighborhood,” she said. “They think that if graffiti is tolerated, other crimes may be as well.”

Over the years there have been efforts to reduce graffiti on campus.

“Paint the Bridge,” an annual campus event, was started, in part, as a response to repeated graffiti and flier postings on the Washington Avenue Bridge, said Mandi Watkins, assistant director of student activities.

Skott Johnson, president of the Dinkytown Business Association, said he has been working with the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Revitalization Project to possibly paint murals over some of the blank walls in the neighborhood that have been inviting targets for taggers.

Johnson is also the owner of Autographics, a printing shop in Dinkytown. Three weeks ago, two students painted a Bob Dylan mural on a store wall that Johnson said had been tagged anywhere from every few weeks to every day. Since the mural has gone up, the wall has remained untouched, Johnson said.

Dave Bergen, manager of Erik’s Bike Shop, said graffiti is frustrating for Dinkytown business owners.

“People take a lot of pride in their businesses around here, and these people don’t give a damn,” said Bergen, referring to vandals.

“It’s not art,” he said. “It’s crap.”