Graffiti on a traffic barrier.

After hearing complaints from residents, the city of San Juan Capistrano has beefed up its anti-graffiti law to include a $500 bounty for anyone who turns in a tagger. It also holds parents financially responsible when their children vandalize property and makes it illegal for minors to buy cans of spray paint or possess them in public places.

“Its important for kids to know that if they’re going to go out there and play this game, there are going to be consequences for them and their families too,” said Mayor Londres Uso.

The bounty system did illicit controversy among the council members because of concern that minors would exploit the law by conspiring to turn each other in so they could split the reward money. But, Uso said, the city is ready to try something innovative because its graffiti problem costs somewhere in the neighborhood of “tens of thousands of dollars a year.”

Catching a tagger in the act is a difficult task in itself, and the new ordinance does not stipulate what kind of evidence would be deemed appropriate. Instead, Uso said the city would defer to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department to handle the evidence policy.

If the reward system is more trouble than it’s worth, the council can change the law, Uso noted.

Councilman Mark Nielsen said the strength of the new law is that it holds parents responsible. Nielsen said that in the past, parents may not have taken the measures necessary to stop their kids from tagging because they might not have seen the offense as a “big deal.”

“It becomes a big deal if it hits them (parents) in the pocketbook,” Nielsen said.

Yet even with the tougher ordinance now on the books, Nielsen said it would be difficult to stomp out the graffiti problem for good. “You put in place laws, but if someone is intent on breaking the law, its hard to stop them,” Nielsen said.


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