Property Owners Pay for City’s Dysfunction Under L.A.’s New Graffiti Ordinance


Graffiti is a bane of urban life, a form of vandalism that demoralizes entire neighborhoods and invites worse crime.

Graffiti is an art form and an outlet for expression amid the jumble and obvious strains of urban life.

You’ll hear arguments from both of those viewpoints, depending on who you talk to about graffiti.

The Garment & Citizen is of the firm opinion that anyone is free to consider graffiti an art form – but all should be mindful that such status doesn’t give anyone the right to express themselves by painting, etching or otherwise tagging someone else’s property. Pablo Picasso himself would not have had any right to create his “Guernica” on the side of someone else’s building, as far as we’re concerned.

It would have been a loss to the world, of course, if Picasso had gone through life with no canvass for his genius. The world needs Picassos, and it’s important to remember that such talent sometimes grows on tough corners.

It would be an ideal situation if we had a school system that could consistently engage such talented individuals…and parents with the time to nurture youngsters inclined toward art...and an overall outlook as a society that values art as something more than a commodity to be marketed.

We’re lacking to some degree or another on each of those counts.

Consider what goes on before some kid decides to emblazon graffiti on someone else’s property.

First, there’s been some breakdown in the family unit. Sometimes it’s a parent or parents who don’t care enough to warn their children off such behavior. Other times they are too busy trying to feed and clothe their kids, leaving little time to teach them right from wrong.

You can bet that many cases also involve a school that has failed to engage and educate the youngster.

There’s probably a lack of after-school resources, too, leaving kids to find camaraderie with mischief makers while their parents are still working.

All of these factors come into play on graffiti in our city. They all point to the dysfunction that has found a cozy spot in Los Angeles for decades.

We live in a city where the minimum wage is $8 an hour, which will bring $320 for a 40-hour week – hardly enough for rent. Is it any wonder that folks at the bottom end of the pay scale might have to spend more time working and fewer hours on their child’s upbringing?

Everyone knows that the drop-out rates at Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) campuses are sky high in general, and higher still as you move down the socio-economic ladder. Yet not much ever changes when it comes to expectations of how well the organization teaches our children.

Then there’s the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), which recently came close to a roster of 10,000 officers, the highest mark in the agency’s history. Compare that to other major cities in the U.S. and you’ll see that we still don’t have enough cops. We have never had enough cops. And now there’s talk of trimming staffing levels for LAPD because the city is short on money.

These are the pillars of the dysfunction that we have lived with for years in Los Angeles. How does a city go so far down a path of ignoring all these problems and allowing the ground for graffiti vandals to grow so fertile?

Look no further than City Hall. That’s where members of the City Council recently passed an ordinance that will require any new commercial or residential buildings to include anti-graffiti coatings on the structures. The only exception comes if a property owner signs a lifetime contract to remove any graffiti within a week.

There you have it – this problem rolls downhill. Failure upon failure leads to the doors of property owners. They must, under the ordinance, join city officials in giving up on any thoughts about directly addressing graffiti vandalism. They must, our elected officials say, pay good money to prepare to be vandalized.

The new ordinance is one way to raise revenue, but it also raises a white flag of surrender – a de facto confirmation that our elected officials lack the governmental skill and political will to face up to graffiti vandals and address the various factors behind the crime.

That’s a dictionary definition of dysfunction – and it passed the Los Angeles City Council unanimously.

Jerry Sullivan is the Editor & Publisher of the Los Angeles Garment & Citizen, a weekly community newspaper that covers Downtown Los Angeles and surrounding districts (