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By Margaret Smyka
Contributing Writer 

Graffiti Watch plans strategy for summer

 

March 25, 2008



Graffiti — what else? — was the topic of the March 18 meeting of Graffiti Watch, which works with community members to remove and prevent graffiti on the South Side. The group also works with GraffitiBusters and the Graffiti Task Force.

Sarah Alessio, of the Pennsylvania Resources Council, Inc ., one of the state's oldest citizen action environmental organizations, said she met last week with District Magisterial Judge Gene Ricciardi.

He suggested the group appear at hearings in his office regarding graffiti nuisance properties. People he sentences to community service may also be used by Graffiti Watch for graffiti removal tasks.

Another suggestion from Judge Ricciardi was writing letters, then mailing all of them in one packet, to the head judge of the Court of Common Pleas asking him to take graffiti seriously in sentencing. Stressing the monetary damages would be helpful.

Ms. Alessio said she would look into a city detective's claim that one judge would handle all graffiti cases for consistency in sentencing.

Graffiti Watch was established in June, 2007.

Its committee members include representatives from the South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association, South Side Community Council, and Pennsylvania Resources Council; board members from the South Side Local Development Co. and Brashear Association; and South Side residents.

Patty Chavez, of GraffitiBusters, said the free city program removes graffiti from public property and from private property, and in that order.

Residents should call 311, the city's non-emergency complaint number, to report graffiti.

Workers were out cleaning vandalized property that day and the prior day as the weather was warm for this time of year. The temperature has to be at least 40 degrees for the chemicals to work.

Property owners who request graffiti removal must fill out a permission form and fax it to the office.

It is against the law for the program to clean graffiti from mailboxes.

There is currently a backlog of about 150 properties to clean. Work is done Mondays through Fridays. The good weather will help with the backlog, said Ms. Chavez.

To a question of whether GraffitiBusters gives residents supplies to do the work themselves, she said no. Sometimes residents will give the program paint to match their house color, and that is then used.

An attendee asked if graffiti is removed and vandals strike again, will GraffitiBusters remove it again? Yes, said Ms. Chavez, but only when the property reaches the top of the list.

Once graffiti is removed, she said, it is equally likely the property will or will not be vandalized again. Sometimes vandals are attracted to the fresh clean spot.

To a question of what to do if a landlord refuses to have graffiti removed, she said to contact the Bureau of Building Inspection, and 311.

Paul Lorincy, of the Paint Committee, said the painting of 40 vandalized, private properties will take place on Sat ., April 19.

The work will be done by volunteers, Duquesne University students, and people assigned community service by Judge Ricciardi. Councilman Bruce Kraus is working on getting supplies.

The day is also South Side spring clean-up day.

"We need to be open in a lot of areas so people see what we do," said Mr. Lorincy.

Volunteers should meet at 9 a.m. at the 18th St. parking lot.

Regarding "adopt-a-spot," Graffiti Watch chair Steve Root said the program is a way to get people involved by keeping an eye on designated property to ensure it remains graffiti-free.

Susan McCoy spoke about a plan being proposed by the South Side Community Council through its Community Task Force.

The plan involves creating subcommittees within each zone to handle quality-of-life issues like crime, litter, parking, graffiti, and more. She is looking for volunteers for zones.

Each zone would then appoint a zone leader who would report incidents to the plan administrator on at least a weekly basis.

"We need for people to start thinking of us as a neighborhood," she said.

Membership would be open to everyone who lives or works in the South Side. A member could focus on "your thing," she said, like litter or graffiti or another issue.

"We want to be pro-active instead of re-active," she said.

Once the plan is complete, it will be presented to the South Side Planning Forum.

As it stands now, one meeting would be held in the day, while another one would be at night.

"So everyone gets a chance to hear what everyone has to say," said Ms. McCoy.

Graffiti Watch would not change, she said, but would have larger support through the plan.

The formation of zones to break the neighborhood into manageable areas is a suggestion of the Good Neighbor Agreement between residents, business owners, and landlords.

The initiation of a Good Neighbor Agreement was recommended by the Mayor's Advisory Council to the South Side.

Ms. McCoy said she wants involvement to be fun besides beneficial to the neighborhood. "We're not just Big Brother watching," she said.

As for feedback on the plan, Ms. Alessio called it a great idea.

Mr. Lorincy cautioned that it is hard to get a volunteer force. Residents not involved in the group can become resentful of others telling them what to do.

Mr. Root said it will benefit Graffiti Watch in that residents will keep an eye on property in their zones.

 

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