In a May 19 letter to the editor, Schenectady resident Fred Heitkamp gave his top 10 reasons for disliking graffiti, from its negative effect on property values and quality of life to its gang implications to its plain ugliness. Then he concluded: “It is a shame this problem is just too difficult to solve.”
We thought the same after years of watching the “tags” and scrawls proliferate and the city basically throw up its hands. Well, it appears we and Mr. Heitkamp were wrong. Thanks to City Council member Leesa Perazzo, the city now has a plan — a really exciting one — for fighting graffiti.
Perazzo said her impetus came from driving around the city and feeling sorry for all the business owners whose buildings were tagged. She called the problem “seemingly insurmountable.”
But then she thought of the county jail inmates who last year helped save a Proctors-sponsored outdoor circus performance by digging a trench to prevent flooding from a drenching rain. So she called Sheriff Dominic Dagostino and asked if inmates could be similarly used in an anti-graffiti effort, and he immediately said yes.
Perazzo then proceeded to contact other agencies involved with youth and alternatives to incarceration, such as youth probation and the Center for Community Justice. She also spoke to union representatives, who she said were supportive because this won’t be work taken away from them; it just otherwise wouldn’t be done because the city can’t afford it.
After that it was Home Depot, which she knew had a community service program with Girls Inc. Home Depot will donate paint and other materials to remove and paint over graffiti, as well as provide the inmates and youth with training in painting. The city Industrial Development Agency will also provide $10,000. No taxpayer money will be used.
The program will start with businesses, municipal and nonprofit buildings, and properties the city has taken through foreclosure. The next step will be to move it into the neighborhoods, first with willing property owners and eventually with unwilling ones through code enforcement.
Also unwilling, so far at least, has been the railroad CSX. Its bridges, including one in the Stockade, are full of graffiti, which both the city and volunteers have in the past offered to paint over but have been rebuffed — presumably for liability reasons. If the railroad won’t take care of the graffiti itself, it should cooperate with a program like this. If not, the city should do the job itself — on the grounds that the graffiti is a hazard because it’s a form of gang communication. Slap some anti-graffiti paint on those bridges (regular paint will be used in the anti-graffiti program, at least at first), and put an end to that problem once and for all.
The effort will begin in October, with teams of about two dozen youths working in different areas of the city each weekend. It will resume in the spring and continue until fall.
Kudos to Perazzo for coming up with a thoughtful, comprehensive program that will send a message to everyone that the city and community care about stopping graffiti. We can’t wait.