Anti-graffiti ordinance angers some citizens

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Some say graffiti is art. Others say it is trash. Either way, it may soon come to an end thanks to a new ordinance approved by Amarillo city commissioners.

Amarillo's Anti-Graffiti Committee recommended the ordinance for approval by commissioners, who in turn voted 5:0 on Tuesday in favor of it. They will take one final vote on the ordinance next week. Amarillo Mayor Paul Harpole said none of the commissioners had questions or complaints about the proposal, so it looks like it will be given a final approval.

"We're saying that for people who have been vandalized or people that have had their property destroyed by graffiti, that's the focus of this," Harpole stated.

In compliance with the new ordinance and new state laws, the City of Amarillo would clean up free-of-charge any graffiti that is reported. Property owners would also have the right to decline the help of the city and remove the graffiti themselves. However, if property owners do not remove the graffiti within 15 days of declining the City's services, the City would then have the legal right to come onto the property and remove the graffiti. Property owners would have the right to request a hearing for the purpose of determining whether the conditions constitute public nuisance. Parents of children who cause graffiti damage to properties would also be liable under the new ordinance as long as their children are under the age of 17.

Attorney Jeff Blackburn said he feels the ordinance is a "terrible idea."

"We already have laws that are designed to stop that from happening. We have criminal laws. Enforce them! Don't create a new set of laws with a new bunch of employees and a whole new government apparatus designed to just do nothing but ultimately make money for the city and boss property owners around."

Blackburn's office is located within a wall which, for the past ten years, Blackburn has invited people to come to and express themselves with spray paint and other decorations. He said he feels not all graffiti is trash and that people have First Amendment rights when it comes to this situation.

"Who's to say that Picasso is art? Well, a lot of people believe that paintings by Picasso are great art. A lot of people believe it's garbage. A lot of people believe that the only thing that qualifies as art is a painting of a field of bluebonnets."

According to Harpole, the City will not pursue Blackburn or his property as long as he makes known the graffiti is wanted.

"What Jeff does, he thinks, is a decoration on his wall and that's his business," he said. "But when somebody goes to my property and takes a can of spray paint and destroys my property, it has nothing to do with what Mr. Blackburn is talking about. It has to do with someone damaging my property and causing me harm."

Harpole added even though Blackburn wants the graffiti on his property, neighboring businesses and homeowners may not.

"If you look at the properties around him, most of those people that do graffiti on his wall don't paint within the lines. They destroy the property around him, too. And it's pretty devastating to the neighborhood."

There used to be a public graffiti wall available to the community, but Harpole said it is no longer around because once it was completely covered people began spraying graffiti on other properties.