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Chamber: Proposed rules on graffiti tools too strict

MARYSVILLE City Councilmember Jeff Vaughan relayed one extreme example of the city's graffiti problem, but, if they follow what's likely to be his recommendation, Council won't be enacting stiffer rules on the sale of spray paint and related items.

While throwing out a few suggestions of their own, the Greater Marysville Tulalip Chamber of Commerce came out against those stricter rules during a meeting of the city's graffiti task force last week.

After surveying members, Chamber President Cauldie said rules proposed by City Council could have a negative impact on local retailers. She added that to a large extent, no one can know the cost to businesses of implementing the rules until after they are put in place.

As they did last year, Council is once more considering steps such as banning the sales of spray paint and markers to those under 18 or requiring the placement of those items in the front of stores, possibly under lock and key.

Among Council members, Vaughan has far and away been the most vocal about wanting to eradicate graffiti from the city, or at least catch the perpetrators. He said he wasn't surprised by the chamber's stance.

"It was pretty much the same thing we got from them a year ago," he said.

Vaughan said he would take the issue back to the full Council in two to four weeks. He added he isn't entirely comfortable with putting greater restrictions on the sale of graffiti-related implements until officials gain a better understanding of where taggers obtain the tools of their trade.

From Rogers' point of view, officials might want to look at the demand side of the problem before attacking the supply side. She said strict enforcement of anti-vandalism rules and harsh penalties for perpetrators might have more of an effect than locking up spray paint.

"The principal flaw in applying supply-side controls to the graffiti problem is that they attempt to change a criminal behavior by regulating a legitimate product," Rogers said in a letter outlining the chamber's stance and delivered to the graffiti task force.

Instead of implementing new mandates on retailers, Rogers pointed to a voluntary anti-graffiti program apparently in use in other cities across the country.

Put together by the National Council to Prevent Delinquency, the program promotes what it calls "responsible retailing."

Among other steps, according to the Council's Web site, the program calls for the education of retail employees on the sale of graffiti implements. Information on the program is available at www.anti-graffiti.org/policy.htm.

In the meantime, even as task force members talked about continuing their efforts to stop graffiti, Vaughan talked about vandals breaking into three vacant homes in the area of what will be the new Getchell High School.

According to Vaughan, the homes eventually will be part of a new residential development on the east side of 83rd Avenue NE, south of 88th Street. Previously occupied, the homes have been sold to the developer of that housing project.

Vaughan said the perpetrators kicked in the doors of the homes, spray painted walls and in at least one case, "just generally trashed the place."

Police did not return a phone call asking for further comment.

Even setting aside any possible action by City Council, City Hall leaders already have launched what they hope will be a useful tool in the battle with taggers. Residents or business owners who spot graffiti now can report the problem directly on the city's Web site, even sending pictures of the vandalism. Vaughan said he has reported several problems, sending pictures taken with his cell phone.

According to Marysville Community Information Officer Doug Buell, the electronic reporting system asks for some basic information, such as where the graffiti was seen and when it appeared. Buell said the system automatically sends the information to police and other city departments involved in anti-graffiti efforts.

On yet another front, city officials and police plan on visiting Totem Middle School and Marysville Middle School with an anti-graffiti program later this month. Officials have identified middle school-aged juveniles as being among those most likely tempted by graffiti activities.

As outlined for the graffiti task force, the presentation includes lots of facts and figures, putting emphasis on the cost of graffiti both to victimized property owners and to anyone caught in the act.

One of the officials who put together the presentation, city Parks and Recreation Director Jim Ballew said graffiti cost Marysville roughly $75,000 in 2007.

The presentation also talks about the 20 to 200 hours of community service work potentially facing busted taggers. Ballew said the average is about 60 hours, but further noted that time only can be served on weekends.

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