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Graffiti guerrillas: Los Banos students slap a fresh coat of paint over tagged buildings.

More than 115 students and community members took to the streets of Los Banos on Tuesday to paint walls marred by graffiti.

For the second year in a row, Councilwoman Elizabeth Stone organized the cleanup.

"I'm totally impressed," Stone said. "I thought we were going to have about half of this number."

Stone said she expected a smaller crowd because students have begun their summer breaks.

The participants split into teams and headed out from Henry Miller Plaza to all corners of the city, including Place Road, Darlington Court, the Rail Trail and others.

Groups from Los Banos High School, Pacheco High School and Westside Union Elementary joined in with paint rollers and brushes. The participants were paid in pizza, letters from the mayor and City Council, and a chance to win $100 for their respective club or group.

Sophomore Dominique Alvarez worked along the Rail Trail with the rest of her Pacheco High cheerleading squad. She said painting over graffiti is not her usual pastime during the summer, but she was happy to be there.

"If it's for cheer, we want to help the community of course," Alvarez said.

The varsity cheer captain said she wishes taggers would express themselves in another way.

Coach Lori Moore said the 45 varsity and freshman cheerleaders were on board with giving up two hours of their vacation to participate.

"Our cheer program is all about community ambassadors and giving back to the community," Moore said.

Police Chief Gary Brizzee said graffiti in Los Banos is in certain pockets of town, and comes from two main sources: Tagging crews and gangs.

"We're out today to eliminate gang graffiti in town," Brizzee said.

The city employs a graffiti cleanup crew that routinely paints buildings on city property, Brizzee said, and receives assistance from a volunteer group. With those crews, he said, it is still difficult to keep up with the vandalism.

"Catching these kids doing it is also difficult," Brizzee said.

Though graffiti is not necessarily rampant in Los Banos, Brizzee said, "I would tell you that any graffiti is a problem."

Site Leader Lupe Medrano brought Learning Educational Activity Program students from Westside Union Elementary to the cleanup.

Through LEAP, an after-school program, Medrano said she works to teach the students to respect themselves, others and property. So, participating in the cleanup made sense.

"We thought we would come out and do some community service work, because all of the kids live here," Medrano said. "So, we drive by every day and we see the graffiti."

Los Banos Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at 209-388-6562 or by e-mail at tmiller@losbanosenterprise.com.

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