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Cities struggle with graffiti and vandalism
MARYSVILLE Its tale of two cities and the writing is on the walls. For Marysville, that is just the problem.
The city is vowing to put an end to a year filled with graffiti and vandalism and some folks here are looking around to see how other towns got on top of a similar problem a few years ago.
Vandals have hit a number of targets over the last year, including several hits on Marysville parks, including the Strawberry Fields soccer complex north of town, the perennial favorite Skate Park a block from State Avenue, and Jennings Memorial Park, which saw garbage cans thrown into the Kiwanis Fishing Pond and other damage.
When City Hall got tagged in the summer the gloves came off and the City Council formed a graffiti task force to deal with the issue.
Jeff Vaughan is a City Council member who felt the sting of vandalism when his teenagers Eagle Scout project was trashed in Jennings Nature Park. Chris Vaughan is a 15-year-old who plays Taps on his bugle during ceremonies each Memorial Day and he installed two benches in Jennings Park for his Boys Scouts project.
Those benches are now covered in graffiti, said his father. It broke my heart as a father when my son returned to show off his work and somebody covered his work with graffiti. Its just not right and we have to do something about this.
A visit to his hometown of Aurora, Colo. piqued his interest, Vaughan said, noting how clean the walls there were. That city has a policy requiring property owners to clean up graffiti within 24 hours. Current Marysville codes allow property owners 30 days to make things right, and for Vaughan thats about 29 days too long. Like many police officers, Vaughan said graffiti is like a weed that spreads.
If we allow that to stay there that sends a message that this is the kind of place that allows that to occur, Vaughan insisted. It has a degrading impact on our community.
The graffiti task force includes a variety of people from the Marysville community, including staff from the Marysville School District and business representatives. The Snohomish County Sheriffs office also recently met with the leaders of the Lakewood School District in the north of town to brief those school administrators in what to look out for. Lakewood schools superintendent Larry Francois said detective Steve Haley visited the district as a preventative measure after Marysville police chief John Turner met with Francois over the summer to discuss the same issue. Turner was suggesting there could be signs of an increase in gang-related activity in the Lakewood area, according to Francois.
That got me having a conversation with our school resource officer here. I think that weve got a little bit of tagging, but no hardcore gang activity, Francois said, adding that his meetings with the two police jurisdictions were preventative in nature. Were not seeing anything in our schools but weve got to be aware of what to be looking for.
Another Larry runs the Marysville School District, which has several staff members on the graffiti task force. Larry Nyland said the problems that plague his buildings are common to retailers and others and like Vaughan noted the district is helping with the problem by providing folks who understand some of the intricacies of Marysvilles immigrant population and security personnel who seem to deal with the usual suspects.
Its bigger than the schools or the city or any one entity, Nyland said.
Vaughan saluted merchants such as Craig Wells, owner of the Marysville Laundry Station on State Avenue, right across the street from the Marysville Skate Park, a magnet for teenagers. Some of them hang out on his steps and scare away customers, and Wells has installed security cameras to deter the vandals who have tagged the Skate Park and the back of his building. After a couple of years of trying the city will budget money for a security camera for the park itself, after the park was hit several times, along with the batting cage business next door.
I feel so bad for guys like him, but Craig has been fighting back and these punks are getting the message that hes not going to take it, Vaughan said.
He added that retailers should keep spray paint and large felt markers behind the counters or out of reach of teens so they cannot buy or steal those implements. He would like to see a ban on sales of those items to minors and has asked for help from the Greater Marysville Tulalip Chamber of Commerce, warning merchants that graffiti and vandalism affects everybody sooner or later.
Thats just part of it, Vaughan said. We need everybodys help with this.
For his part Wells feels he and the Marysville Police Department have gotten the upper hand on problems around his laundry business, which has an entrance on Columbia Avenue directly across from the skate park. Teens used to skateboard through his business and tag the walls relentlessly and Wells visited the Marysville Parks Department to complain. He also installed cameras and covered up the graffiti as soon as it appeared, he jokes that its still wet when he was on the job.
There are nights when Im here you can really smell the paint in the air, Wells said, and he notes that kids are disappointed to visit the next morning after a tagging to see their work removed. According to Wells they ask him Where did it go? and seem to have given up.
Its turned around a lot. The police have been really outstanding, Wells said, adding that he still visits the parks department advisory board and is much more welcome these days. Its pretty cool to walk into the meeting and they go Whats going on now? and I say Nothing, everythings fine.
He supports Vaughans initiatives, which right now are asking businesses for voluntary compliance with graffiti materials, but Wells thinks the city can regulate those items due to the terms of a city business license. He sent Marysville City Attorney Grant Weed a list of five cities that regulate the sales of spray paint and other materials and thinks Marysville may have to go that route too.
Right now the law is a little lax, Wells said.
Over the next year Vaughan and other Council members expect to see legislation passed reducing the amount of time property owners have to clean up damage and to hopefully hold adolescents accountable for clean up and mitigation themselves. The Marysville School District is helping identify kids that might have some issues at home that cause or tolerate their behaviors and Vaughan noted that many times a poor home life leads to involvement in gang activity. Some of the graffiti in Marysville is gang related, police have said.
Graffiti is, we think, just symptomatic of a larger issue, according to Marysville Police Chief John Turner, who said some graffiti in town is gang related. Its hard to get a handle on that.
The city is leading by example, taking down the markings that appeared one Saturday last summer.
The day that stuff appeared was the day that it got cleaned up, Vaughan said. It made me angry, and thats what got me and some of the other Council members interested in it.