State

Got graffiti? Remove it or be fined

The city has a new tool for fighting graffiti, and it's not paint remover.

The City Council on Tuesday night gave Modesto the power to fine property owners who don't clean up graffiti in a timely manner at least $125 a day.

The council voted 6-0, without comment, to beef up the city code. Councilman Brad Hawn was absent from the meeting.

City Attorney Susana Alcala Wood said giving the city the option to fine property owners is a small but important step in Modesto's battle against graffiti.

Under the new code, a first-time violator will be fined $125 a day. Fines climb to $500 for repeat offenders who continually ignore graffiti on their property.

Right now the city can't fine property owners for failing to remove graffiti quickly. The city issues written notices to property owners warning them to remove graffiti. If the property owner doesn't wipe out the mess, the city does it for them, then bills them.

Adding fines could make property owners more responsive, Alcala Wood said. "Sometimes money talks," she said. "This is forward progress for sure."

The city is overhauling its approach to graffiti because Modesto's system for cleaning up the problem paint is convoluted and inefficient, officials say. Several departments handle graffiti, from public works to parks to police. Each has its own system for reporting, investigating and removing graffiti. The city wants to streamline its system and add more teeth to enforcement.

The Police Department has one officer dedicated to fighting graffiti full time, but that position could be in jeopardy as the city seeks to fill a $12 million shortfall in its general fund.

Bee staff writer Leslie Albrecht can be reached at lalbrecht@modbee.com or 578-2378. Follow her at http://twitter.com/BeeReporter.

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