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Auburn tries to tackle growing graffiti problem

Graffiti can be found throughout Auburn, including under the Highway 18 overpass.  - Courtesy photo
Graffiti can be found throughout Auburn, including under the Highway 18 overpass.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Some graffitist or perhaps a group of them is getting awfully busy and downright obnoxious with the spray can lately.

Just how busy? How obnoxious?

Between Jan. 1, 2012 and March 19, 2012, the City's Planning Department logged 12 graffiti-related complaints from angry residents and business owners. But between Jan. 1 and March 19 of this year, Auburn residents lit up the lines with 44 complaints.

That's a 266-percent spike.

City officials estimate that the vandals have done most of the damage in just the last month.

And it's all over the City, from north to south, on the hillsides and on the flat, on fences, below underpasses and on businesses.

City officials estimate that probably less than 10 percent of the vandalism is gang related.

"It has all the indications of a bunch of kids who've been spreading out around," said Auburn Mayor Pete Lewis. "It's not all gang related; it's more of what they might think of as graffiti art."

In some of the worst cases, the vandals have hit the property of senior citizens.

"That's so sad for them," Lewis said. "They're the ones who have the old cedar fences that are really nice and that they have always taken care of. And how do you get 20 feet of graffiti off a cedar fence? The answer is, you can't."

Property owners and city employees left to deal with the mess might be excused for wanting to wrap their fingers around a few necks.

While there were no leads as of Tuesday, the mayor has posted the news on Facebook and in his update.

"I want everybody to keep their eyes open and let us catch just one. Just give me one," Lewis said, holding up an index finger. "If we catch one, then we'll talk about all the others."

Jeff Tate, the City's interim director of Planning and Development, explained how the City's code enforcement officers respond to graffiti.

"Code Enforcement does not just address graffiti through citizen-generated complaints," Tate said. "When Code Enforcement observes graffiti tagging while responding to other issues, it takes proactive steps to clean graffiti on public property and works with landowners to have the graffiti removed on private property."

In addition to the citizen complaint figures cited above, Tate said, code enforcement took proactive steps to eliminate graffiti as follows: Jan. 1 to March 19, 2012, 22; Jan. 1 to March 19, 2013, 71.

Any act of graffiti within Auburn city limits is a misdemeanor. That means anybody caught red, blue or green handed, would almost certainly find him or herself in hot water before a judge in Auburn Municipal Court. They could also almost certainly count on receiving a generous allotment of community service hours and doing more scrubbing than they ever imagined.

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