The city of Atwater has passed a new ordinance that gives property owners just days to cover graffiti, or be charged for the cleanup.
Atwater police say they've cut the graffiti rate significantly by going after taggers themselves, but it's obviously still a problem there. So now the city is trying a new approach.
The side of a 99 cents store in Atwater has been tagged so many times, you can see three separate layers of cover-up paint. And in many other places around the city, graffiti itself is still easy to spot.
"If you have graffiti everywhere, it discourages people from opening businesses, property values drops, little things like that," said Lt. Sammy Joseph with the Atwater Police Department.
The police department has dedicated two officers to tracking down taggers since last July, but Lt. Joseph says it's also important to cover up their markings right away. That's why the city recently passed a new ordinance that gives property owners in highly visible areas three business days to paint over graffiti. Those in less visible areas will have five days.
"The ordinance before wasn't really a clear ordinance, and it was having issues going back and forth to the council. And some people would refuse to do it, it was very hard to implement stuff. This way it's very simple, it's very self-explained, and it takes care of matters very quickly," said Lt. Joseph.
If anyone doesn't comply, the city can remove the graffiti and charge the property owner for the cost of the cleanup. Critics argue it's not fair to make vandalism victims pay for the crime, but help is available for those who need it.
"There are some cases where the elder people live alone, they can't afford to take care of it, they don't have the means to take care of it. And myself and my company we volunteer for free out of our own pocket to abate those cases," said Environmental Compliance Resources CEO Paul Creighton.
Environmental Compliance Resources contracts with the city to clean up graffiti, and Creighton says research shows taggers are less likely to hit areas that are quickly covered.
"When there's a tagging situation, we come in and clean it up, or the homeowner or business cleans it up; that minimizes it and it moves them out of the area, or completely stops the graffiti problem," said Creighton.
The ordinance also says the city manager can waive the costs of removing graffiti if the property owner agrees to assign their victims' rights to the city; that allows the city to seek restitution if the tagger is caught.