Private contractor to tackle Mesa's graffiti problem - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Private contractor to tackle Mesa's graffiti problem

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Posted: Thursday, July 8, 2010 6:00 pm | Updated: 6:59 pm, Thu May 15, 2014.

It’s bad enough to wake up in the morning and discover graffiti has covered your property.

But to add insult to injury, property owners often find a city’s solution to the graffiti is covering it with a giant splotch of gray paint.

So much for color matching.

But a growing number of cities are attacking this blight with customized touch-ups that leave no evidence of the costly criminal damage. Mesa is the latest Valley city to try the approach, hiring a private contractor to take over graffiti removal.

California-based Graffiti Protective Coatings has contracts in several states and Valley cities and uses technology as much as paint to battle the urban nuisance. The company is expected to begin in Mesa within one or two months, and will start by blanketing the city to mask existing graffiti but also years of mismatched paint.

“A patch mark or a square discoloration, in our eyes, is just as bad as graffiti,” said

Barry Steinhart, the company’s general manager.

Mesa’s transportation workers had been covering graffiti, because much of it was in the right-of-way. The city used only gray paint because of the difficulty and cost of trying to match the endless variety of paint colors.

Graffiti Protective Coating equips its trucks with 40 colors of paint, each of which is then tinted by eye for an exact math, Steinhart said. It has other techniques for removing spray paint from block, stone and other unpainted materials.

The company already did one clean-up in Mesa several months ago, sending 10 trucks to one neighborhood. The company donated its effort to demonstrate its service.

Councilman Dave Richins said he was impressed at the difference he saw. Both the city and its residents have wanted to do a better job covering the damage, he said.

“Graffiti as an issue is troublesome to neighbors because you have evidence that somebody’s been on your property or in your neighborhood that’s up to no good in the middle of the night or whenever it happened,” he said. “It’s unnerving. Graffiti makes people feel uncomfortable in their own neighborhoods.”

Graffiti Protective Coatings’s clients include Avondale, Goodyear and the Arizona Department of Transportation. The company begins a job by saturating the area to wipe out graffiti because once taggers know a city is aggressive about removal, Steinhart said, they’re discouraged from striking again.

“Graffiti attracts graffiti,” he said. “If you keep it clean, its stays clean.”

Mesa performs about 4,800 removals a year, said Craig Blum, a transportation field operations superintendant. That’s been fairly steady for years.

Steinhart’s company relies on technology to battle blight as much as paint. It uses an iPhone application to take photos of every tagging, document the location and dispatch crews. Because most taggers leave a signature, the company uses a database to track how many spots a person or group hits across the city. This can help police prosecute for additional charges when someone is arrested, and greatly increase the amount of restitution.

Another free smart-phone application can be downloaded by residents to report graffiti.

Mesa’s contract doesn’t spell out whether that will be available here. Stienhart said he expects details will be worked out soon.

However, about 95 percent of graffiti is detected by crews because they constantly drive through problematic and high-profile parts of a community, Steinhart said.

The company’s contract is for $138,500 per year. Its bid was the lowest of eight proposals Mesa received, with one coming in at more than $1.3 million. Mesa now spends about $100,000 per year on labor and materials for its single-color approach to covering graffiti.

Most graffiti isn’t reported to police, said Sgt. Ed Wessing, making it difficult to know how much is related to gangs. Any tagging that appears to be gang-related is investigated, he said.

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