The wisdom of  San Jose’s privatization of graffiti abatement is still in question. Contractor Graffiti Protective Coatings went $166,700 over budget in its first year. The greater issue is the failure to utilize a holistic approach that includes murals in its long-term strategy. San Jose was the poster child for a community based abatement strategy without murals, when it began passing out buckets of paint to its citizens and organizing teams of volunteers to go after graffiti. When Rick Stanton was the Graffiti Abatement manager from 1997 – 2007, he claimed to have reduced graffiti in San Jose by 99.88%. However, Stanton’s initiatives do not appear to have lasted long past his tenure and the vast network of volunteers has crumbled. Why else would San Jose still be spending $800,000 / year on graffiti abatement? Stanton’s work was directly informed by the Broken Windows theory, which has also had numerous holes shot through it, while still being the manual for abatement in most urban epicenters.

The increase in graffiti in San Jose appears to support what the Community Rejuvenation Project has argued all along. Simply painting over graffiti again and again is not an effective solution. San Jose spent ten years and innumerable resources to virtually eliminate graffiti only to have it creep back in less than five. What San Jose and other cities in the Bay Area need is a holistic approach to abatement that incorporates murals, youth development and community engagement. Murals are a permanent solution to repeated vandalism. They do not provide a blank surface to be repeatedly written on. They create a sense of community and neighborhood pride that a blotchy paint job does not. And they can connect to the very youth who have writing on the walls in the first place. The aerosol aesthetic has always tapped into the spirit of the youth because the spray paint movement was one that was developed entirely by youth. The best solution to abatement is to cultivate the creativity of the children through murals rather than continuously try to erase their expression.


SAN JOSE — San Jose’s outsourced graffiti program appears to be a winner with residents even if some city leaders remain skeptical.

City officials said the decision to outsource graffiti cleanup to a private contractor, Graffiti Protective Coatings, is saving money, improving performance and boosting community involvement.

“We found the new model is both cost effective and has improved quality and responsiveness,” said Julie Edmonds-Mares, acting director of parks, recreation and neighborhood services, which oversees graffiti abatement.

The City Council also wants to explore ways to get graffiti cleaned more quickly from railroad and highway overpasses that aren’t within the city or its contractor’s control, and to explore increased cleanup work and other penalties for taggers.

Edmonds-Mares said the city has reduced San Jose’s overall graffiti abatement cost by $600,000 a year, even though the contractor’s costs of $800,000 were $166,700 higher than originally projected. She said the contractor’s higher costs were offset by reductions in other areas including materials, resulting in no increased cost to the city’s general fund.

Edmonds-Mares said the contractor’s month-over-month eradication volumes are decreasing because the company not only paints over tags but matches paint to the background surface to eliminate any trace of vandalism, a method that has reduced recurrence of tagging in other cities. San Jose, she said, is seeing similar results, which should lower future costs for graffiti eradication.

“The premise is that taggers will see a decrease in their notoriety when tags are removed promptly,” Edmonds-Mares wrote in a report to the council. “The lack of prolonged exposure results in ‘less bang for their buck’ and taggers are less inclined to commit future acts of vandalism because the effort, cost and risks outweigh the benefits. GPC has experienced this result at other cities and public agencies and the city is now starting to see similar benefits in our community.”

Edmonds-Mares said that overall, GPC completed 33,375 abatement work orders with 91 percent of those completed within 48 hours. In the East San Jose districts where abatement efforts were focused, 98 percent of abatement orders were cleaned up within 24 hours.

In addition, with GPC’s 24/7 call center and the new San Jose Clean smart phone application, San Jose has seen “overwhelmingly positive feedback” from residents regarding GPC’s quality of work and timeliness. Edmonds-Mares said 94 percent of those who responded to a survey with the smart-phone application rated work quality excellent and 97 percent rated timeliness excellent.

The city’s anti-graffiti program’s work with the Mayor’s Gang Prevention Task Force and the police department’s graffiti enforcement unit resulted in the arrests of several vandalism suspects including tagging crews and individuals with monikers such as “HYSU,” “Felix the Cat,” “SHOEN” and “SKW,” Edmonds-Mares said. They were responsible for some $150,000 in damage to freeways, downtown building fronts and properties throughout the city, she added. But she said her department is worried that the pending redeployment of the police anti-graffiti unit to patrol might hinder ongoing progress.

Several council members who opposed outsourcing the city graffiti abatement program to a private contractor expressed continued skepticism.

Xavier Campos questioned whether the department can fairly claim to be saving money when it increased the contractor’s payment by $166,700.

“I don’t think we’re really able to say there’s a cost savings until the end of the contract,” Campos said.

Ash Kalra added that he did not believe it is fair to include the contractor’s work painting over the patchwork of older graffiti paint-overs as eliminating graffiti.

“You can’t really compare it when isn’t apples and apples,” Kalra said.

But other council members said they were pleased with the way things have gone.

“I’m hearing very good things out in the community about it,” Councilman Sam Liccardo said.