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Graffiti-marking materials banned to those under age of 21

Turning 18, a person can buy a pack of cigarettes, vote or head off to war. But those the age of 18 in Sunnyside won't be able to purchase a can of spray paint.

The Sunnyside City Council last night approved an ordinance making it illegal to sell spray paint or any graffiti-marking materials to anyone under the age of 21. The new ordinance also provides the city the power to take graffiti offenders or their parents/guardians to civil court to recoup damages.

"I think it does what we are after," said Sunnyside City Councilman Don Vlieger. "It puts the city in a place where we can civilly hold these people responsible. Heaven knows we need to do something."

The ordinance came to fruition because of the escalating graffiti problem the city has been experiencing in the past few months. Prior to the ordinance, the city had what is referred to as a "gentlemen's agreement" with local businesses to prohibit the sale of graffiti-causing materials to minors. The Council wanted to implement an ordinance because the verbal agreement has apparently not been working.

The ordinance basically prohibits the selling of any graffiti-causing materials-aerosol cans, felt-tip markers, paint sticks, etching tools. etc.-to anyone under the age of 21. The ordinance also states that graffiti is a misdemeanor subject to a $1,000 fine.

But not everyone was as happy with the new ordinance as Vlieger was. Councilwoman Bengie Aguilar, who provided the lone vote against the measure, noted a couple of objections to the ordinance. Aguilar said she would have liked city staff to have contacted the five or so businesses in town that will be affected by the ordinance to get their input. Aguilar had particular concerns about how a part of the ordinance requiring businesses to lock-up or have graffiti materials in direct staff supervision would be greeted.

Vlieger responded back by saying he contacted two local businesses. Vlieger said Ace Hardware told him it would have no problems implementing such an ordinance. Vlieger said he also went to Wal-Mart but hadn't received a call back from management on the matter.

"Wal-Mart, they didn't care," said Vlieger. "Ace (Hardware) cared."

Aguilar was also worried that prohibiting sale of materials such as spray paint to anyone under 21 years of age would be too restrictive.

"You become an adult at 18," said Aguilar.

Councilman Jim Restucci agreed with Aguilar, saying he didn't want to limit local business owners from being able to sell materials to anyone under 21 because of the ordinance.

But, Vlieger stuck to his guns on the 21 years of age limit. Vlieger said there are adults under 21 who cause graffiti problems and he would like to see them held accountable through this ordinance.

"I would rather pass 21 and see if it creates a problem," said Vlieger.

Police Captain Phil Schenck, though, said a majority of the graffiti arrests in Sunnyside are typically juveniles. Schenck also said that the people causing the graffiti usually don't purchase the material, but rather steal it from stores. Schenck also expressed reservations concerning a portion of the ordinance restricting who can furnish graffiti-causing materials to anyone under 21. This portion of the ordinance states only a parent, guardian or school district representative can supply such material. Schenck said under this portion of the ordinance it would be illegal for a business owner to hand someone under 21 years of age a spray paint can, which was a concern Restucci also wanted addressed.

In response to concerns with this portion of the ordinance, the Council opted to implement the word employer as being one of the people who can supply anyone under 21 with graffiti-related materials.

Sunnyside resident Maria Partida agreed with holding the age limit at 18 instead of 21. She felt the graffiti matter would be better addressed at a community level then prohibiting young adults from buying spray paint. Partida said at 18 someone is old enough to go to war, "..."they should be able to determine if they want to buy a can of paint or not."

Councilman Alex de la Cruz, 21, who is barely old enough to purchase graffiti-related materials under the ordinance, was in favor of the measure. He said the alleys and buildings in the city are being hit hard by graffiti.

"I really think this is going to bring down some of the problems we are having," said de la Cruz.

The ordinance further states that graffiti visible on any public or private property shall be removed within 72 hours. Property owners will be billed for graffiti removal done by city employees.

The city is also offering up to a $500 reward for information on catching graffiti vandals.

. Mike Kantman can be contacted at (509) 837-4500, or email him at mkantman@eaglenewspapers.com

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