Lack of graffiti patrol coincides with tagger rise

Taggers deface buildings, fences, signs
It looks more like the outer hull of a rotting New York City
Subway train than a clear plastic wall enclosing a nice
greenhouse.

Every few days there’s a little more,

said Tae Kue Lee, pointing to the squiggly lines of
graffiti.
Taggers deface buildings, fences, signs

It looks more like the outer hull of a rotting New York City Subway train than a clear plastic wall enclosing a nice greenhouse.

“Every few days there’s a little more,” said Tae Kue Lee, pointing to the squiggly lines of graffiti.

A bell pepper breeder by trade, Lee said the outer walls of Wong Woo Seed American’s greenhouses were clean last May when the farm, located off Highway 156 near San Juan Bautista, changed hands. Then, squiggly lines appeared one day on the building’s left side. And soon all sorts of colors drawn in symbols that mean nothing to Lee made their way to the end of the wall’s right.

“I guess it’s the same guy,” Lee said.

The former owner regularly cleaned off the graffiti, but Lee still can’t figure out how to erase the darned stuff. When the spray painting bandit or bandits ran out of writing space to put what appear to be their nicknames, they doodled on another building. Lee said he’s beginning to feel embarrassed by the farm’s new West-Side-Story look.

That look is alarming to some law enforcement officials.

“As far as I’m concerned,” said Sheriff Curtis Hill, “it’s all gang-related. Tagger crews respond just like a gang if their tags get stepped on.”

Around town one sees all sorts of billboards, metal utility boxes and even the occasional storefront squiggled with graffiti. One gentle woman living in on Nash Road – who didn’t want to be named so her property wouldn’t get spray painted even more – said she’s tired of having the gardener paint over the fence.

“I think it’s juvenile and baby stuff,” she said.

Back on San Benito Street, downtown association president Ignacio Velazquez said he noticed some buildings with symbols on the sides this weekend, and that’s the first time he’s ever seen graffiti downtown.

“Obviously, they are feeling confident they can get away with it,” he said.

While graffiti has been around for years, anecdotal evidence suggests instances of tagging – applying one’s street name in an effort to stake out territory – are rising. Taco Bell’s windows were etched with acid this week, the side of San Benito Bank’s downtown branch was tagged, then remarked with more names the following night, a for-sale sign and light post at Nash and Cushman, the side of Timber and Textiles, countless alleyways, even the U.S. mail box at Six and San Benito are covered.

Even Police Chief Bill Pierpoint admits that tagging us probably up, but that he’s powerless to do anything about it.

“One of the problems I’m suffering from is I’ve got few officers effective for duty,” he said.

But Capt. Bob Brooks said there haven’t been any more complaints than usual about tagging. The difference between tagging and gang graffiti, by the way, is one involves friendly competition while other is about turf, Brooks said.

“Tagging crews come and go,” he said.

A tagging crew is a bunch of kids competing with each other to see how many times they can spray paint their nickname in visible areas and who can get their “tags” in the hardest-to-reach places.

Hill said that parents and business owners need to be proactive and report all incidences of graffiti immediately.

“It has got to be reported,” Hill said. “We should photograph it, document it and then paint it over. On the bigger side, it points to the gang issues that we have to work as a community to stop.”

Gilroy Police Chief Gregg Giusiana agrees with Hill. He said Gilroy officials believe tagging falls under the broken windows theory, that is if one window can be broken, then so can more.

“It often is the first step,” Giusiana said. “Those tagging crews can then become part of a gang, or become affiliated with a gang.”

When tagging became rampant in Gilroy around four or five years ago, Giusiana said hundreds of citizens packed a community forum held on the issue to demand an end to it.

Giusiana said Gilroy officials now take tagging so seriously, their goal is to have it painted over a morning within discovery. To this end, volunteers watch over different neighborhoods, a paint company is under contract and busted taggers are forced to clean up their own mess.

“Part of this is we have a lot of eyes out there,” he said.

Unlike Brooks, Giusiana sees gang graffiti simply as a more virulent form of tagging as opposed to something separate. Gang graffiti typically comes in red and blue colors with symbols such as “HOL14” and “SUR13,” Brooks said.

A red HOL14 means it was written by a member of a gang comprised of Mexicans who have lived in this country for one or two generations, AKA Norteños, according to Brooks. A blue SUR13 means it was written by a member of a gang comprised of Mexicans born in Mexico, he said.

When police find a large number of these symbols in a given area, with symbols crossed out and written over, then it usually means tensions are heating up between the gangs, Brooks said.

“It’s always been around,” he said.

Resident Tony Cemeno disagrees that it’s always been around, at least in its current numbers. He thinks there may be some kind of influx of gang element, possibly from San Jose. Recently, he found a light pole tagged outside his house on El Cerro Drive, and he sanded the pole down the very next day, because if graffiti on one light pole is OK, then it’s OK on everything else, he said.

“I came here 10 years ago and we had no graffiti,” he said.

Saw tire tracks

Lee(CHECK) bought the property in May.

The farm grows cauliflower, cabbages, broccoli and spicy peppers.

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