Low-budget graffiti removal working

       Mark Davis, head of Colorado Springs Code Enforcement's graffiti-removal program, estimates he and helpers have encountered 10,400 spray-painted “tags” on public property since he was hired about six months ago.
       They range from gang code to arty efforts 40 feet long. All of them have been removed.
       Davis was working on the Westside May 27 - a couple of utility boxes had been hit along Pikes Peak Avenue - which is a little unusual. “On the Westside, we don't find a whole lot, compared to the rest of the city,” he said.
       The city has had a graffiti-removal program for a long time, but this year's is a pilot program for a new in-house effort. Ken Lewis, Code Enforcement director, said it's working out so far the way he'd planned - with lower cost and timelier response.
       When he convinced City Council of the plan last year, during its '08 budget planning process, he pledged removal within 24 to 48 hours, and he said that's been happening. With a previous contractor, removal had often taken weeks, he said.
       A special arrangement has even been worked out with the Colorado Department of Transporta-tion for Code Enforcement to remove graffiti from I-25 sound barriers within city limits.
       As for costs, Lewis noted by comparison that Denver spends about $1 million a year on graffiti removal, while the Colorado Springs program costs less than $50,000. Davis is the only full-time employee. He drives around in a truck, looking for tags or responding to calls. His helpers don't have to be paid. They are people working off community service sentences from municipal or county court. Sometimes these people get excited about the concept and come back to volunteer, Lewis said.
       The program doesn't have a shop of its own. Removal equipment just gets a corner in a garage at the Police Operations Center downtown (Code Enforcement is a branch of the PD).
       Still, “we're making it work the way it is,” Lewis said. He plans to report to City Council soon about the program's successes.
       Visible aspects are the removal methods themselves. In the past, graffiti would just be painted over, usually with colors that didn't match. Through research, Lewis and Davis have found formulas that allow the spray paint to be wiped off so it looks as if the vandalism never occurred. They're particularly pleased with a product called SoyClean, a non-toxic cleaner that is only available online (soyclean.biz). “You can buy it in bottles,” Davis said, adding with a laugh, “We buy it by the gallons.”
       On rougher surfaces, a product called Taginator is used with a high-pressure washer and, in areas where drainage into creeks is an issue, a soda blaster with compressed air does the trick, he explained.
       The city has officers who keep track of gang graffiti (where and what symbols). Davis tells them what he finds, he said.
       The only “catch” for the city's graffiti-removal program is that it only applies to public property. Private property owners are expected to remove their own graffiti within 10 days, under city law. But the city is also interested in hearing about serious graffiti problems, no matter where they occur.
       The Graffiti Hotline is 634-5713.

Westside Pioneer article