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Public Safety

San Diego Graffiti Program Gets Poor Marks

Graffiti in San Diego, taken on Jan. 1 2013.
Graffiti in San Diego, taken on Jan. 1 2013.

The division of abatement responsibilities within San Diego's graffiti control program causes delays and its reporting process is overly complicated, according to an audit report presented to the City Council today.

The program, which has had its staff and budget downsized over the years, has significant weaknesses that hinder graffiti control goals, including splitting abatement responsibilities between three entities: the Transportation and Storm Water Department's Street Division, the Development Services Department's Neighborhood Code Compliance section and a third-party vendor called the Urban Corps of San Diego County, according to the report.

Officials noted that the city's process for reporting graffiti is confusing, and in most cases residents cannot track the status of their complaints.


Graffiti can be reported to all three abatement agencies, although the Street Division handles vandalism on public rights-of-way, while Urban Corps does so on private property and Neighborhood Code Compliance employees work to enforce graffiti laws and defer reports to the other agencies, according to city officials.

"You have to tell people to call three different numbers and hope that they know the difference between public right-of-way and private property (when) even our own city employees, as the audit points out, (don't) necessarily know the difference," council President Todd Gloria said.

City officials said the process not only causes delays in getting graffiti covered over because some service requests have to be forwarded to other departments, but abatement crews are inefficiently routed and are sometimes unable to take photos or collect other data that could be used to evaluate the program or catch the vandals.

Staff from the city auditor's office delivered a set of recommendations, some of which were already in the process of being implemented, including centralizing graffiti abatement operations with the Street Division; studying which operations could be performed best by city crews or other vendors; improving coordination among the groups involved in graffiti control; and offering incentives for those reporting graffiti vandalism.

The audit also recommends ensuring the city has adequate resources to manage graffiti, because budgeted graffiti control expenses have been cut by nearly 50 percent, and staffing around 40 percent, since the 2008 fiscal year.


"When they're spending more in the city of Riverside, the city of Long Beach and Anaheim — cities that are far smaller than us — on graffiti abatement, you begin to understand why some of our neighborhoods look the way that they do," Gloria said.

The city could also use programs such as "Graffiti Tracker" to collect photos and other information that can be used by law enforcement to prosecute vandals, according to the report.

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