A new graffiti ordinance in The Dalles puts a tight timeline on property owners to remove graffiti—just five days, or 14 days in case of hardship—but there will also be a free service to have it removed.
Previously, graffiti was handled under the city’s nuisance ordinance. City staff looked at how eight other Oregon cities handled graffiti, and Steve Harris, the city’s community development director, told the city council June 24 that some cities put liens on properties or directly billed property owners for the cost of cleanup, and some cities also charged an administrative fee on top of it.
But the city helps fund the Wasco County Youth Services, and one of its programs includes graffiti cleanup. The city, meanwhile, has committed to providing the materials needed for the graffiti cleanup work, Harris said.
He said later in the meeting, “We wouldn’t want to make it an unnecessary hardship or burden for a property owner who is reporting graffiti on their property.”
However, it wasn’t clear to all the councilors that it was free until nearly the end of the discussion. Councilor Russ Brown said he had reservations, but once Harris explicitly said the removal was free, Brown said, “Wow, I guess that changes the game. I guess I misunderstood it a little bit. In that case I have no problem at all with this ordinance.”
If a property owner does not remove the graffiti within the allowed timeframe, the ordinance allows issuance of a fine of up to $500.
Councilor Darcy Long-Curtiss remained opposed to the ordinance, and abstained from the 4-0 vote approving it. She called it government overreach and said it was punitive to property owners, who were victims of a crime.
Harris said one of the important aspects of dealing with graffiti is to remove it promptly. Graffiti left alone leads to more graffiti, he said. He cited some buildings on First Street that had graffiti on them for months, and now there’s more graffiti on top of the original graffiti.
He said the graffiti problem isn’t big in The Dalles, but there are “hotspots,” including certain commercial buildings, shopping centers, some areas on First Street, and some neighborhoods on the west end of town.
The ordinance has two methods of reporting: self-reporting by the property owner, and if a city employee discovers it. If a property owner finds it, the ordinance recommends owners notify the city within 48 hours. From that point, they would then have five days to either paint over the graffiti themselves or utilize the youth services program to do it for free.
The other eight ordinances the city looked at had removal timeframes of five to 30 days.
Harris said once a property owner notified the city, the city would reach out to the youth services to begin the cleanup.
The county’s youth services program works with youthful offenders. City Councilor Rod Runyon, who in his former capacity as a Wasco County commissioner served as chair of the regional jail board, said the youth services program might not always have the youth available to repaint graffiti within five days.
The ordinance does allow a 14-day extension for hardships such as sickness or disability, but Long-Curtiss said some hardship circumstances could last far beyond that timeframe.
She said that according to the ordinance, she was in violation of it because someone put chalk on her sidewalk without her permission. “I have no intention of getting rid of that within the next five days.”
She again asked that graffiti be added to the nuisance ordinance, and that the city follow the steps provided in that ordinance for graffiti removal.
Runyon said the ordinance itself does not state that youth services will do graffiti removal and the city would pay for the materials. He said that should be made explicit in the ordinance.
Harris said there would be more work on that and it would be reported back to council. Mayor Rich Mays said perhaps a letter of understanding between the two staffs would suffice.
City Manager Julie Krueger said there is no formal agreement with the county to do the service, but an agreement is represented in the city’s budget process, since the city provides money, $13,650 this fiscal year, to the youth services program.
Runyon also felt that five days “seemed kind of short. I think we should monitor that five days and see how it actually works.”
Harris said notices to property owners with graffiti would include information about the youth services program.