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Graffiti along a wall between Santa Monica High School and Lincoln Boulevard on Wednesday. (photo by Daniel Archuleta)

CITYWIDE — It can be found on street signs, bus benches, bathroom stalls and the Santa Monica Pier. Graffiti, it seems, is making a comeback and city officials are left scratching their heads as to why.

While vandalism — which can include everything from slashed tires and broken windows to salt-damaged lawns — is on the decline, Santa Monica police officers have reported an increase in the amount of graffiti they see while on patrol.

As of Monday, the SMPD received 155 reports of graffiti this year compared to 92 during the same period last year, said Sgt. Richard Lewis, spokesman for the SMPD. But, there are many more reports that do not come directly to law enforcement.

Graffiti removal teams responded to 30,240 reports of graffiti last fiscal year, up from 23,159 in the year prior and 19,583 a year before that.

“We’re definitely experiencing a jump,” said Lewis, who could only speculate as to the cause.

“It could be because of rising gang tensions, but a lot of it is tagging by outside influences coming into the city.”

Tagging refers to the signing of a name or moniker anywhere in public.

Other causes for the increase could be better reporting by residents using City Hall’s graffiti hotline or smart phone app GORequest, high unemployment and anxiety about the future, or the simple fact that it’s summer and kids do not have school or homework to keep them occupied.

“Summer is our busiest time of the year,” said Martin Pastucha, public works director for City Hall who oversees the graffiti abatement program. “We even saw [graffiti] on some trees.”

Others have pointed to a glamorization of graffiti, reflected by a new “street art” exhibit at the Sunset Marquis Hotel in West Hollywood as well as an earlier show at the Museum of Contemporary Art, which celebrated wealthy graffiti artists like Banksy or Shepard Fairey, who designed the famous Obama “Hope” poster.

People are using the community as their canvas, some looking for fame and fortune while others simply want to impress friends or outshine rival tagging crews.

Areas hardest hit in Santa Monica are Main Street, Downtown, Virginia Avenue Park and the Santa Monica Pier, Lewis said.

City Hall spent $392,649 on its graffiti abatement program, Pastucha said. Three full-time employees and a contractor use a pressure washer, ice blasting machine and environmentally-friendly cleaners (a last resort) to remove graffiti.

“We try to respond as quickly as possible, usually within a day” of receiving a complaint, he said.

Police are on the lookout for anyone vandalizing public or private property and will make arrests or issue citations, Lewis said. It’s not a case of officers being too busy.

“When we see it, we’ll crack down on it,” he said.

To contact the graffiti abatement team call, (310) 458-2231. To learn more about environmentally-friendly ways to clean up the mess, visit www.smgov.net/departments/ose.

kevinh@www.smdp.com

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