Holland: Clean up graffiti or pay up

HOLLAND — It’s just about that time of year again — the start of a new graffiti season.

For residents of Holland and Zeeland, the writing is on the wall: Clean it up or pay the price.

Holland and Zeeland passed ordinances last month to fight graffiti by targeting the property owners whose fences and garages are vandalized.generic Holland graffiti 040914

In Holland, the ordinance defines graffiti as a nuisance, allowing the city to notify property owners and give them five days to clean it up. If the property owners don’t, the city could clean it for them and charge the property owners about $100.

It could also lead to a civil infraction.

In Zeeland, where taggers strike sporadically, the city plans to give property owners about a week to clean it up. If they don’t, the city will write a violation, giving them three more days. After that, the city can file a civil infraction with a first-time fine of up to $100.

Contrast that with Grand Rapids, where residents call a “graffiti hotline” and the city sends a crew to clean it at no cost. Last year, the city spent $61,000 on the program.

Up and down alleys in parts of Holland, garages and fences are covered with either old graffiti or with the paint that doubles as white-out.

“Those kids are cunning and smart. You’ve got to be one step ahead,” said one neighbor, who didn’t want to be identified.

So he has tried his own deterrents: Painting over graffiti on the back of his garage and even installing a surveillance camera in a back alley.

A Holland resident put up a surveillance camera and warning sign to deter taggers. (April 9, 2014)
(A Holland resident put up a surveillance camera and warning sign to deter taggers. April 9, 2014)

“You’ve got to watch out when school ends,” he said. “That’s when they’re going to get you the best.”

Phil Meyer, Holland’s director of Community and Neighborhood Services, said most neighbors clean the graffiti themselves.

“There are some property owners that just decide they don’t want to deal with it,” he said. “I think they’re just figuring, ‘Why clean it up because it will happen again?'”

But, he said, it’s important to erase the mess.

“There’s a concern that it sends the wrong message to somebody who might be looking to purchase and wants to live in the neighborhood,” he said.

“It’s sort of the broken window theory, as the police circles talk about it,” Meyer continued. “If a window’s broken in the neighborhood, you fix it immediately because if you don’t, somebody’s going to break another window and it just looks like the neighborhood isn’t being tended to.”

In Holland, some residents can’t understand why they should pay for the sins of graffiti artists.

“It’s not the owner’s issue, it’s the city’s issue,” said Gabriel Saldana, whose neighbor’s garage is tagged with fresh graffiti. “To me, it’s their responsibility.”

But Meyer disagrees.

“It’s similar again to the broken window,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that someone is the target of a broken window, of somebody breaking their window, or doing any sort of damage to their property, but it’s got to be fixed.”

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