Portland erases property-owner fines from graffiti rules

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PORTLAND — The City Council on Monday passed an anti-graffiti ordinance designed to force rapid removal of graffiti by property owners.

But the mechanism to enforce action – a fine for uncooperative property owners – was stripped from the ordinance over objections from the Police Department.

The new ordinance requires property owners to submit a plan for prompt removal of graffiti to the city within 10 days of notification.

The Police Department said the threat of fines was needed to deal with property owners who are unresponsive or do not allow city workers on their property to perform clean-up.

When the city cleans up graffiti on private property, it can bill the property owner for the cost, plus 10 percent in administrative fees. 

“No responsible or responsive property owner will be fined under the ordinance,” Councilor Edward Suslovic said. “We’re not looking to punish anyone who is doing their best to respond.”

Councilor David Marshall, however, argued that fines are not needed. He noted the ordinance is modeled after one in South Portland, where the program is considered effective without fines.

But Councilor John Coyne said removing the fines was the equivalent of fixing a pit bull.

“It looks menacing,” Coyne said, “but it’s not going to do a heck of a lot.”

The ordinance, which allows graffiti art to be placed on buildings with the owners’ permission, also allows police to issue civil summonses to people carrying graffiti implements, which include paint, markers and gum labels, among others.

It also prohibits the sale of graffiti implements to minors without parental permission. It also forces stores to display implements in a supervised area and display a sign saying graffiti is against the law.

Anyone cited under the new ordinance could be subject to a minimum fine of $500 and may be required to perform 25 hours of community service.

Bull Feeney’s owner Doug Fuss, who served on the graffiti task force, said the ordinance is part of a multi-prong approach to address graffiti.

The city will launch a “Take Back Free Street” marketing campaign, and will conduct educational outreach to youth, he said. Fuss said police also need an officer dedicated to graffiti enforcement.

“There is no magic bullet,” he said.

In other business, the council conducted a first reading of a request for a one-year extension of contract zoning for the proposed Bayview House development. The project at 112-113 Newbury St. is said to have been delayed because of a lack of financing. 

The council also postponed action for one year on the Brentwood Master Plan, but asked city staff to report back in August about how it is going to address water problems associated with a community garden.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @randybillings.

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