Graffiti mars a utility box on N. Lacy Street in Santa Ana. (Photo by: Adam Elmahrek)

Santa Ana City Council this week narrowly approved a $600,000 annual contract with an independent company to outsource graffiti removal in the city.

After tabling the decision for several meetings, the council chose to contract with Los Angeles-based Graffiti Protective Coatings Inc. to take over the responsibilities of the city’s four-member graffiti removal crew.

The vote was 4-3, with council members Sal Tinajero, Michele Martinez and Vincent Sarmiento voting against the contract, and council members Caludia Alvarez, Benavides, Bustamante and Mayor Miguel Pulido voting for it.

As is almost always the case these days in public agencies, the decision to outsource came after much internal debate.

Union members have said recently that contract employees won’t provide quality service. The head of the city’s public works department has argued that the graffiti cleanup services will actually be enhanced.

City Council approved the contract Monday night after much deliberation and another round of private conversations on the dais, which are blatant Brown Act violations. Council stipulated that the company hire city residents, buy equipment from city businesses, have an office in the city and have software comparable to the city’s current graffiti tracker ready within 90 days.

Councilman David Benavides, who was the swing vote on the issue, proposed the conditions.

Council members who voted against the contract said the contractor wouldn’t be able to provide the same level of service as city employees.

“There’s an inherent quality,” with city employees, said Councilman Vincent Sarmiento. “They have a relationship with the city, they have a relationship with the businesses.”

Meanwhile, council members who voted for the contract said city employees were overwhelmed already and that the contractor’s color matching will discourage taggers from repeatedly hitting the same spots.

The outsourcing will ultimately drop the cost of graffiti removal from $2.2 million to $1.7 million, according to Public Works Director Raul Godinez.

But the four remaining abatement workers aren’t going to be laid off, so the savings won’t be realized right away. Godinez says he expects to lose four employees in the department through attrition over the next few years.

Councilman Carlos Bustamante, the only Republican on council, focused on future savings.

“Ladies and gentlemen this is about getting the most bang for your buck, and we don’t have a lot of money here,” Bustamante said.


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