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Council touches up graffiti ordinance

One still has to be 21 years of age to purchase any sort of graffiti-causing materials, but last night the Sunnyside City Council did approve some changes in its newly adopted ordinance.

On Feb. 9, the Sunnyside City Council adopted an ordinance banning the sale of graffiti-marking materials to people under 21 years of age. The ordinance was adopted as a way to help curb a significant increase in the amount of graffiti incidents being seen around Sunnyside. The new ordinance also empowers the city to take graffiti offenders or their parents/guardians to civil court to recoup damages.

When the ordinance was adopted Feb. 9, Councilwoman Bengie Aguilar cast the lone vote against the measure. Aguilar expressed some concern with prohibiting young adults from purchasing such materials. Aguilar also had doubts that businesses would be able to comply with certain parts of the ordinance with such short notice. Aguilar said she would have liked to have seen city staff receive input and work with local businesses before composing such an ordinance.

The amendments to the ordinance the Council adopted last night were minimal.

Interim City Manager Mark Kunkler said he feels the graffiti ordinance gives the city an avenue to hold graffiti offenders accountable.

Kunkler said he visited with several businesses about the ordinance following the Feb. 9 meeting.

"Every retailer I talked to is in support of the ordinance," said Kunkler.

One of the recommended amendments approved last night came from Ace Hardware. The amendment states that every business owner who owns an establishment that sells graffiti-marking implements will post a sign at each cash register or where graffiti implements are displayed, stating that no such items will be sold to anyone under 21 years of age.

The other amendment defines the tip of a felt-tip marker. The amendment states any felt-tip marker with tip one-half inch or greater shall be required to be stored in the direct line of sight of a staff member.

Another amendment last night adopted by the Council defines graffiti-related items that can't be sold to those under 21 years of age. Kunkler said there was some cleaning up of the section dealing with which items fell under the requirement for having to be placed in a storage display. Kunkler said the verbage was condensed and made more concise because the store managers pointed out that almost any item, such as a nail, could be used to cause graffiti. Kunkler said the ordinance reads better now because it defines which items, such as aerosol paint containers, aerosol paint brushes and felt-tip markers, have to be either stored or be in direct line of sight of an employee.

Another section was removed from the ordinance which could conceivably allow parents, whose children have been found liable in a civil court for damages, to hold a store financially responsible. Kunkler said this section might be revisited later, but for now it was best left out.

Kunkler said the ordinance will now become effective five days from legal publication. The only exception is the portion regarding the displaying of such graffiti-causing items. Businesses will have until June 1 to be in compliance with this part of the ordinance.

Aguilar said she was pleased staff went back and spoke with the different retailers in town.

"When we do that we really value our business community," said Aguilar.

Councilman Bruce Ricks was also content with the ordinance. Ricks said the ordinance will hold parents responsible for what their children do.

Anyone found guilty of causing graffiti, which is defined as a misdemeanor, can be assessed up to a $1,000 fine.

Councilman Alex de la Cruz felt the ordinance very much empowers city officials, such as police officers, judges and prosecutors, to tackle head on the issue of graffiti.

"I am extremely happy with the process," said Councilman Don Vlieger, who initiated the ordinance. "The process was good. We got the job done."

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