SPOKANE, Wash – It doesn't take too long to find in any population center – graffiti sprayed on walls, buildings, and in alleys.
Local business owner John Waite says the tagging problem in Spokane has always been bad, but in the last three years or so, it's gotten worse.
"Business owners can't keep up with the amount of graffiti that's going on," Waite told KHQ, adding that he's had to cover up graffiti on his two commercial properties near Main & Division more times than he cares to count.
As it stands now, business owners who are hit with graffiti are given a 10-day notice to clean it up, but if nothing is done, their property could potentially become listed as a "nuisance building" under city code. The penalty can be pretty stiff, potentially leading to the condemning or eviction of the property, although such measures are rarely taken.
And there's another problem – it's hard to enforce.
But now, Spokane City Councilors are considering an amendment to the graffiti ordinance. Council President Ben Stuckart tells KHQ it would actually be more lenient on business owners, who he agrees are the victims of graffiti, and would be easier to enforce.
Under the new proposal, property owners would still get a 10-day notice to clean up the graffiti, but thereafter would get a $25 per day fine. However, Stuckart would like to see half of the revenue, if not more, go back into a fund to buy paint and supplies for business owners to use.
Stuckart believes the $25 fee is not too strenuous, especially considering that Business Improvement District members pay into a graffiti abatement program. They can call 509-456-0580 to report graffiti or other clean-up issues, and have it taken care of.
While Waite agrees that is a helpful service, and knows there is no simple fix, he told KHQ he'd like to see more done to prevent graffiti in the first place.
"Part of the problem in my head is that the city isn't doing enough with safety, security and police to help," Waite said. "I hope people understand we're doing the best we can, you can walk around neighborhoods and you see grandmas with their garages hit with graffiti, and you don't solve those problems by snapping your fingers and fining people."
City leaders agree; there are Neighborhood Compliance Officers and volunteers who already help with the clean up, and Spokane Police has about $10,000 in a graffiti-related fund to help cover expenses for paint and cleaning supplies.
Chief Frank Straub is asking all on-duty officers to report graffiti so it can be quickly removed, and told councilors he plans to devote more man-hours to preventing the problem in the coming months.
At Monday's meeting, fellow councilors posed concerns about business owners who are out of town long-term and miss the 10-day notice, or who are senior citizens or otherwise may not be able to take action.
Such details are yet to be worked out, but councilors are expected to vote on the ordinance in July.