With all over downtown—even in vacant shop windows— Napa is full of art for the public to enjoy
And then there's graffiti.
Gang scrawls and tagging can be seen on fences, walls, freeway overpasses, bridges, bike trails and buildings all over the city.
“It’s a constant problem. We get rid of it. They strike again either some other place or the same one,” said Napa Police Detective Todd Schulman, who is assigned to the graffiti unit.
“It’s a subculture. They do it as gang activity or (for) notoriety.”
Gangs vs. taggers
Gang graffiti differs from tagging, Schulman said
“Gang graffiti is numbers, letters and is done by gang members marking their terrority in certain neighborhoods. It’s done between rival gangs,” he said.
“Tagging, which is usually more colorful, is a tagger’s way of getting his name out there. He wants his (work) to be seen. We see more tagging.”
Schulman said tagging shows up all over Napa, while "gang graffiti is more likely to be found in neighborhoods where they live.”
Taggers work alone or in groups.
“We see bombing raids where crews (two to three taggers) will go out and blanket a whole area, hitting street signs, utility boxes, walls and structures,” Schulman said.
Taggers have also stumbled upon a way to prepare ahead and get the job done faster.
Instead of painting on the spot, the vandals buy large self-adhesive labels and do their handiwork before they leave home.
“Then they run along the streets or wherever, peeling off the labels and sticking them on whatever they can,” Schulman said. “It’s a lot faster and lowers the risk of being caught.”
The graffiti vandal’s “weapon” of choice is either spray paint cans or permanent markers, Schulman said.
“We also see where they have used tools to etch their work in glass. That is the hardest type to remove and usually does the most damage.”
Graffiti vandals seek an adrenaline rush, Schulman said.
“That’s why you see graffiti in dangerous places such as freeway overpasses. They try to outdo each other. There is also the thrill of getting away with something unlawful.”
Nabbing graffiti vandals isn’t an easy task.
“They are usually gone by the time we get there, and a lot of it is done in places where police cars cannot patrol,” Schulman said.
The community has played the biggest role in arresting graffiti vandals, he said.
“We have a graffiti hotline (257-9528). We encourage all citizens who see or suspect graffiti being done to call. When we get the call, we immediately dispatch an officer and many times he will catch them in the act and make an arrest.”
Graffiti is a young person's game, according to police.
“The ones we have arrested are primarily between 16 and 20 years old. I remember we arrested a man in his 30s, but that is unusual,” Schulman said.
“And it is dominantly done by males. It’s very unusual to arrest a female for graffiti.”
Graffiti can be either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the dollar amount of damage to the property.
Any damage over $400 is a felony. The offender is at risk of jail time, probation and restitution.
While police are in charge of the criminal side of graffiti, the city public works department has the job of graffiti removal.
Jeff Folks, Napa City Public Works maintenance manager said, “Removing graffiti is a never-ending job. As soon as you get rid of it, it’s right back there.”
However, that doesn’t hamper Folks and his one worker from doing their best to keep on top of removing graffiti.
“The whole idea is to remove it as soon as they put it up. They want everyone to see their graffiti, so by removing it as soon as possible, it defeats their purpose,” he said.
Folks estimates the graffiti removal truck has responded to as many as 20 to 30 calls a day.
“It can be feast or famine. In the bad weather, calls for service go way down.”
It's everywhere, especially ...
Although no area is immune from being a graffiti target, Folks said the vandals have their favorite spots.
“The west side of Highway 29 by Kilburn Avenue is a hot spot for gang graffiti. The skateboard park is a favorite place for taggers,” he said.
“We also are kept very busy on the bike trail by the railroad tracks and California Boulevard. “
Places where graffiti poses a public blight and around schools are the first priority for removal, Folks said.
“We want to get to all the spots, but there is just me and my one worker.”
If the graffiti appears on public areas, the cost to remove it is absorbed by the city. However, graffiti removal costs on private property fall in the owner’s lap.
“We send the property a notice to remove the graffiti. If they don’t comply, we do the job and bill them,” Folks said.
“Hopefully the vandal will be arrested and be ordered to pay the removal cost to owners.”
It costs Napa $25,000 a year for graffiti removal, which comes from the city general fund.
The graffiti removal program also receives about a $7,000 annual grant from the Gasser Foundation that goes to purchase cleanup supplies, Folks said.
It is against the law to sell aerosol spray paint to anyone under 18, Schulman said: “Store employees are suppose to check the ID of anyone who buys those products.”
The city of Napa is looking into an ordinance that would require stores to keep spray paint cans locked up.