- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 27, 2000

Vandals continue to thwart efforts of the District of Columbia Department of Public Works to remove graffiti on properties along the Metro Red Line in Northeast and have made it difficult for some property owners to sell their businesses.

Despite two graffiti-erasing trucks and new efforts by the DPW to involve residents, properties along the Red Line continue to be covered with graffiti.

Businessman Jack B. Anderson said he has seen no difference in the amount of graffiti in the area since The Washington Times first reported the high rates of vandalism to buildings around Rhode Island Avenue NE in March 1999.

Mr. Anderson, 68, said graffiti has made it nearly impossible for him to sell his vacant warehouse on Edgewood Street NE where such vandalism seems to be the cost of doing business in the area.

"We're still trying to sell it," said Mr. Anderson, who has spent more than a year showing prospective buyers the property at 705 Edgewood St. NE. He said the graffiti often scares them away.

"What's distressing and depressing is that [vandals] come back and redo it with fresh paint."

Mr. Anderson, a D.C. native, has owned the 77,000-square-foot building, and its neighbor at 707 Edgewood St., since 1972. The buildings, which used to house a wholesale liquor distributor, have been targeted by vandals for more than a decade, he said.

Mr. Anderson isn't the only businessman with graffiti troubles.

Several buildings of the Thomas Somerville Co., a plumbing supply company in the 4900 block of Sixth Street NE, also are covered in graffiti.

Prominent positioning along the Metro Red Line between the Brookland and Fort Totten stations, has made the buildings an easy target over the last three years, said Murray Korn, the Washington branch manager for Thomas Somerville Co.

"I think we quite frankly used to address the problem, and we just gave up addressing it," Mr. Korn said.

Graffiti removal has been a priority of Mayor Anthony A. Williams' administration for the past two years. The District's budget for this fiscal year earmarked $227,000 for fighting graffiti. In May 1999, the city spent $170,000 on the anti-graffiti trucks, equipped with high-powered hoses and liquid solvent that removes paint in minutes.

Northeast is not the only area affected by graffiti. From April 1999 to May 2000, DPW cleaned up 649 locations in all four quadrants of the District, including government buildings, sidewalks, bridges and buildings run by the Department of Housing and Community Development, said Linda Grant, DPW spokeswoman.

One setback is that DPW doesn't have the authority to clean up graffiti on private property without the owner's permission, Mrs. Grant said.

"Mayor Williams is still committed to addressing the graffiti problem in the city," said Leslie Hotaling, the interim director of DPW, on behalf of the mayor.

The mayor's office is working with the D.C. Council to pass legislation that would allow the city to clean up private property, she said.

Mrs. Hotaling cited the formation of an anti-graffiti task force with members from Amtrak, the city and the Metropolitan Police Department as a success. DPW also is working with residents on a graffiti cleanup at 18th and California streets NW on Saturday morning, she said.

"Community engagement is something we need to improve and this weekend we'll hopefully have a success story," Mrs. Hotaling said.

In May, the department started a program to involve small businesses and residents in distributing anti-graffiti kits containing paint and brushes to their neighbors. Buildings along 14th and U streets NW were the target of a neighborhood cleanup that month.

"The problem is on private property, so we found a way to assist private property owners," Mrs. Grant said.

Some private property owners have already found their own solutions to the problem.

"We ended up putting up a fence at the cost of $10,000 just to combat the graffiti," said Carl Alvin Bright, president of Washington Area Locksmith Companies, located at 915 Rhode Island Ave. NE.

Amtrak has cleaned 1.5 million square feet of graffiti along rail lines, and Amtrak police made 214 graffiti-related arrests between Boston and the District within the last year, said Karen Dunn, an Amtrak spokeswoman.

The company also has contacted private property owners near the rail tracks and offered to clean up their graffiti, Mrs. Dunn said.

The C&O; Canal National Historic Park that runs from upper Northwest down to Georgetown is a main target of vandals, said National Park Service officials.

"They target areas that are out of the way where there isn't a lot of traffic," said Earle Kittleman, a spokesman for the national capital region of the National Park Service.

Stickers and posters, a bigger problem for DPW than graffiti, are found in neighborhoods throughout the city from Adams Morgan in Northwest to the Benning Road area in Northeast and Good Hope Road in Southeast.

"We put them into our definition of graffiti because they are eyesores that do not belong in the public space," Mrs. Grant said.

After more than a year of searching, Mr. Anderson said he has found a prospective buyer for his property. If the sale goes through, the new owner plans to install tall razor-wire fencing to keep vandals out, he said.

The Metropolitan Police Department has been called to Mr. Anderson's property more than once, but has been unable to catch those responsible. He said a few times he has nearly caught the vandals himself.

"They dropped their bags and cans and ran," Mr. Anderson said.

"They had an exit strategy."

Much of the graffiti is related to gangs who "tag" buildings with their names to stake out territory, but graffiti goes beyond gangs, Mr. Bryson said.

"It can vary. It's not only traditional urban young people, the demographics vary. It's more of a culture that crosses different lines," he said.

Those caught marking up buildings are charged with defacing property, not graffiti, so there are no available statistics on the number of people caught, said Kenneth Bryson, a D.C. police spokesman.

D.C. courts have the authority to hit graffiti vandals with up to $5,000 in fines and put them in jail for up to a year. It is rare for police to catch someone in the act, though, Mr. Bryson said.

"It's an opportunistic crime," he said.

"The fascination is stealth and not being caught. It's part of graffiti culture."

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