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Mayor Harrell Details Proposed Efforts to Beautify City; Address Surge in Graffiti

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Nov 03, 2022 - 02:49 AM

Seattle – Today, Mayor Bruce Harrell detailed elements of his One Seattle Graffiti Plan to beautify Seattle and address a surge in graffiti through new strategies and proposed budget investments. Since 2019, incidents of graffiti reported by the public have grown over 50%, including nearly 20,000 reports of graffiti and tagging in 2021. “We have an opportunity to envision a more beautiful Seattle – with murals and canvasses that reflect our values of creativity, inclusion, and forward thinking,” said Mayor Harrell. “Not only does tagging and graffiti detract from the vibrancy of our city, there are tangible impacts on communities targeted by hate speech, small business owners whose shops are defaced, and residents who rely on City signage for information and guidance. Incidents of graffiti have dramatically increased throughout the pandemic, and progress requires a One Seattle approach, where we work together to advance proven solutions, reduce silos, and tap into our greatest resource – our community.”

Mayor Harrell’s plan includes six major pillars:

  • Implementing Best Practices to Increase Abatement – Mayor Harrell’s plan and proposed budget will enhance staffing and resources for Seattle Public Utilities’ Graffiti Rangers, allowing them to easily remove graffiti using specialized equipment and effectively discourage re-tagging. The plan will also improve interdepartmental coordination across City departments involved in anti-graffiti work.
  • Increased Assistance to Reduce Graffiti on Private Property – New resources will be offered to victims of vandalism and existing resources will be made easier and more equitable to access. In addition to an abatement kit pilot program and the Office of Economic Development’s new Storefront Repair Fund, SPU’s Graffiti Rangers will proactively offer City abatement services at low- or no-cost to eligible property owners.
  • Many Hands Art Initiative – Mayor Harrell’s plan will engage with artists, businesses, volunteers, and others to activate spaces with art, mitigating and preventing graffiti, through the Many Hands Art Initiative. The Seattle Office of Arts and Culture is already seeking partners to install new public art, providing opportunities for creative workers. As part of this initiative, they are also developing artist-led youth programs to give young people a sanctioned, safe way to pursue an interest in street art.
  • Enhanced Volunteer Programming and Coordination – Building on experience from anti-graffiti volunteers, Mayor Harrell’s plan will include providing up to 1,000 graffiti abatement kits and training individuals, groups, and businesses how to use them effectively. Additionally, the City will launch new Days of Caring in each district starting in 2023, bringing volunteers and community groups together to enhance and beautify neighborhoods.
  • New Approaches to Enforcement – Working with the City Attorney’s Office and SPD, the plan will increase enforcement of graffiti offenses, striking a balance with larger penalties for the most prolific taggers and expanded diversion options for low-level offenders. These will include community service work, mentorship programs, and alternative avenues for creative expression to discourage future offenses.
  • Continued Collaboration with the Washington State Department of Transportation – Early collaboration between the City and WSDOT has reprioritized cleanups along their rights of way, with hundreds of work hours going toward abatement efforts during late-night lane closures for I-5 expansion joint work this summer. The City of Seattle will continue to work with WSDOT to prioritize cleanup and abatement along the interstate and other rights of way, pursuing an efficient, coordinated approach moving forward.

Implementing early priorities of the plan will rely on $944,000 in the mayor’s proposed budget, which would go toward improved abatement efforts, support for property owners impacted by graffiti, and enhanced volunteer opportunities. The proposal was developed with the City’s constrained budget in mind – prioritizing high-impact policies and programs that could be implemented at lower costs.

Mayor Harrell announced the plan from Fat’s Chicken and Waffles, the Central District restaurant home to an iconic Martin Luther King Jr. mural that was vandalized with graffiti earlier this year.

WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING

Rabbi Will Berkovitz, CEO, Jewish Family Service Seattle

“Days after I wrote an op-ed about the rise of hate against the Jewish community, a week after a gunman took Jewish people hostage in a synagogue in Texas, antisemitic graffiti appeared across the street from our building on Capitol Hill, blocks from one of the largest synagogues in our city: Temple De Hirsch Sinai. The City took swift action and immediately removed the graffiti, reducing the potential of any further hate speech or violence. Sadly, we are living in a time when hateful acts and violence are rising against historically marginalized communities. We are extremely grateful to Mayor Harrell and his commitment to addressing the surge in vandalism around Seattle especially when these acts include hate speech.”

Erin Goodman, Executive Director, SODO BIA

“Neighbors and small businesses in SODO have been seriously harmed by the surge of graffiti over the last few years – buildings and signs are too often defaced with hateful messages that have no place in our community. But we know that art can also be a powerful tool for prevention. I look forward to working with Mayor Harrell on this needed investment to address problematic tagging, promote creative murals and artwork, and give our community resources and support to take action.”

Ahi Martin-McSweeney, CHBA Program Manager, Capitol Hill Business Alliance

“Seattle’s small businesses have faced many challenges over the last few years, and persistent vandalism and tagging continues to impact them. Mayor Harrell’s plan to swiftly address graffiti is a tangible support for business owners, allowing them to focus on a recovering economy while still creating vibrant streets that benefit our neighborhoods through murals and street art.”

Mike Stewart, Executive Director, Ballard Alliance

“Mayor Harrell’s plan to beautify Seattle and address graffiti promises to be welcome relief for neighborhood business districts around the city. The Ballard Alliance has created mural and street art programs this year that have not only enhanced our neighborhood streetscape but also proven to be effective deterrents to unwanted graffiti.”

GRAFFITI IN SEATTLE

  1. Seattle saw 52% growth in graffiti reported by the public or discovered by staff during the pandemic, with 19,700 reports in 2021, up from 13,000 reports in 2019.
  2. Clean City Initiative funding helped mitigate the increase in tagging during the pandemic, with 8,700 tags abated by SPU, SDOT, and SPR in 2021, up from 5,000 tags abated in 2019, but it was not enough to keep up.
  3. The three largest abating departments (SPU, SDOT, and SPR) cleaned up 100% of racist, sexist, or obscene graffiti within 24 hours of it being reported in 2021.
  4. In 2021, 69% of reported and discovered graffiti was on City property. 19% was located on private property, with the remainder being the responsibility of other government agencies, including WSDOT, King County Metro, and USPS.
  5. Across public and private property in 2021, buildings were the most frequent target at 18%, followed by utility and traffic signal poles at 15%, traffic and parking signs at 14%, and bridges and overpasses at 13%.

Source: Seattle Office of Mayor

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