Vision cuts invited more graffiti & big costs to restore program

Post by Mike Klassen in


Even City of Vancouver vehicles are getting tagged across town – click for larger

A decision made by Vision Vancouver to slash the anti-graffiti program in late 2009 has had predictable consequences: our city is now a mess thanks to all the unchecked taggers leaving their marks across town. What is also apparent now from Vision's shortsighted move is that it's going to cost a whole lot more to restore the quality of graffiti prevention that existed before.

Anti-graffiti programs in the City of Vancouver go back nearly twenty years, but were finally given teeth during the NPA council of Mayor Philip Owen in 2002. It was then that council decided to combine by-law enforcement (the stick) with education and staff training (the carrot). What resulted is a very effective collaboration between City staff and the VPD to curb the costly vandalism tagging caused.

Putting in a small amount of time to keep your community graffiti-free pays its own dividends. That's why I regularly devote my time organizing and conducting "paint outs" (covering graffiti) in my neighbourhood. While they aren't spotless today (I've been just a little busy in recent weeks), the streets & allies nearby are remarkably tag free when compared to the rest of Vancouver. In fact, I invite City staff to come by and take a look – I'll even give them a tour!

Over the last 20 months since the anti-graffiti program was punted by Vision Vancouver the problem of tagging has once again become acute. While the City tried to suggest that Vancouver has gained some kind of reputation as an international graffiti hot spot, the truth is that if you don't deal with tags you're just inviting more tags. And that's what has happened across our city.

While I'm relieved that spending on an anti-graffiti program has been renewed, I've discovered that rebuilding the program comes at a high cost. Before the being axed by Vision, City staff had built up formidable knowledge on how to deal with the vandalism, and had created systems (such as providing free paint supplies to communities) for dealing with it. Because all those staff and resources have been moved on to other files, we're now going to have to spend weeks if not months just getting back up to speed.

Meanwhile the tagging continues.

Before, the Vancouver Police Department had two officers assigned to graffiti detail. Thanks to their training both were leading experts in identifying who created the tags, while keeping a running list of the culprits' contact info. Now both of those officers have been assigned to other roles, and new ones have to be trained.

I recall reporting to one of those VPD officers about a tagger who had scrawled over one of our new community murals. The cop knew the kid who did it, went to his house and got him out of bed to confront him about it. That kid never tagged in our neighbourhood again after that.

Apparently all the paint supplies and resources attached to the paint out program need to be restocked. The City now needs to cut new deal with a supplier just to get that resource back up to speed. A new manager must be trained in the field and act on the recommendations of the Engineering department's new plan.

A once vibrant mural program also needs to be reactivated. The local community group I work with spearheaded the creation of five local murals to not only to deal with constant graffiti, but to create a sense of place. Happily our murals achieved both those goals.

Removing and deterring graffiti is an example of the 'broken window principle' embodied locally in the NPA's Project Civil City initiative. PCC was condemned by Vision Vancouver as being an affront to human rights, while to others it was a matter of common sense. If you don't take care of the way your city looks, it sends a negative signal that anything goes. And so it became with Vancouver's graffiti.

As the news broke about the restoration of the anti-graffiti program, I was contacted by a small business owner who was led to believe that a $212 annual dumpster fee required by the City was to fund, in part, the graffiti program. While I've not been able to confirm this, I am led to believe that this money collected by the City does have an anti-graffiti component attached to it. That full fee was still charged in spite of the graffiti program being spiked.

Like Vision's "meadow look" idea which had the City chopping its grass cutting budget, slashing the anti-graffiti program is more evidence that Robertson's team lacks the common sense in their ranks to govern a big city like Vancouver over the long term. I hope this graffiti flip-flop by Mayor Gregor will be a lesson for future governments not to cut what should be a "basic service" of local government.

- Post by Mike Klassen. Mike is a city council candidate for the Vancouver Non-Partisan Association (NPA). If you're an elected official or candidate seeking a nomination and want to write about urban issues, please send your 450-500 word submission to

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Sometimes common sense is not common enough.

I hope the tags down at the Kits beach Trafalgar entrance gets removed, and faster sooner than later - some not so nice language plastered up for families to walk by.

will "watching paint dry" be counted as a green jobs created?

Is spray paint black, and overgrown brown grass the color of the Greenest City?

Is a civic Climate Policy analyst kind of like being in charge of keeping a corner of a swimming pool clean, while people urinate in other corners?

Dumpsters: The $212 fee is for permission to exist on public property. It is also to pay for monitoring etc. The city does not touch graffiti on a dumpster. It only sends notices. It is either the Hauler who has to do it (good luck, some are better than others) but often pass that cost on to the leasee, or, the neighbourhood gets absolutely fed up and gets a can of paint and does it themselves.

Dumpster free initiatives would go a long way to dealing with appropriate recycling, reduced waste, and better looking alleys. So far, the Hauling industry has managed to lobby to retain the status quo.

I've been taking care of the graffiti for businesses in my area for some time now, the paint was donated.

I started approaching businesses during the Olympics to help out and have just continued.

The pleasure I see on the staff's faces when they pull into the lot on Monday mornings and see a fresh cleanly painted wall is worth the effort..

Now the dumpsters are a different story..I find I actually resent doing their job for them..and the paint colors for some reason are hard to match..
Storing all the paints in my little apartment was a challenge..but some things are worth it to be an active contributing member of your community..

Yes, and the idiots who are creating the ugly graffiti are, in many cases, the same idiots who rioted after the Stanley Cup. Who's town is this, anyway? What a joke.

George, you deserve to be nominated for sainthood.

I have a bit of a rebellious streak in me. I think it is outrageous that the Haulers do not maintain their product until it is virtually a heap of scrap metal - especially given what they charge for their services.

I think dumpster graffiti should be painted out in florescent orange so it is blatantly obvious that graffiti has been dealt with by citizens rather than the company itself. Yes, it would be ugly, but we might make a point!

Why should we let people think these companies look after their stuff by meticulously matching a paint colour (if you beg hard enough, they will give you some and I would not be surprised if some of the paint stores know what the code is for BFI green)... I digress.

it is a paint store that donates to please explain.. that might make my job easier..

I'm rebellious..nowhere near a saint..and I must admit I've been taking photos of certain tags..I have noticed if you don't paint over quickly other taggers quickly join in.

About 5 years ago there was a project at our kid's school I helped out with..we had the kids paint a mural, and the City came and coated it with an anti graffiti coating, we were at first put off about the coating as artists, we felt there was a code of ethics among artists, but must admit we were grateful for it in the end..

To this day I walk past the school and smile...

George, I used to be able to go to General Paint on Rayburn and ask for City of Vancouver green and they knew exactly what the formula was simply because they had done it so many times. If someone was ambitious, they could likely get a colour number the disposal companies as well. Every paint brand tints differently so if they say Benjamin Moore 2011, General Paint should be able to make it for your by cross referencing the formula.

I will see if any of my connections have already done this.

But isn't this conversation crazy - city does nothing, owners of the dumpsters do nothing... Joe Citizen that has no vested interest in the enterprise is out there painting a structure so they don't have to live with the vandalism. Something is wrong with this picture.

good point!
thanks for the info...

Mike Klassen

Staff and program cuts forced by the Tunnel-Vision Green Team, 'green' meaning inexperienced in logical reasoning, blind to proven effective city services, have led to mountains of built up, neglected, or delayed work. Graffiti is the most visible. Wander through any department and you will easily find Ballem lovers ready to sing praises on how happy they are to take on extra work, not.

How to get dumpster owners to clean up graffiti from their bins? Paint them with the competitors colors.

BruceWayne - that is a brilliant idea!

We could ban dumpsters like they do in Toronto, Seattle and other cities and have people place garbage in biodegradable bags to be picked up by the disposal companies. Different colour bags are used to identify different disposbale materials.

The resident or business is responsible to ensure they are not broken and put out to be collected, usually overnight for that night or next day pick up.

This program (which I was intially skeptical about) has proven to work ..
preventing illegal dumping, actually encouring sorting of wastes and decreased noise pollution, graffitti and other issues typically associated with dumpsters.

Something to think about...

Actually, I like it when the citizens get involved...

It makes them remember those who do---or don't--get the job done.

But I also think that it's a good lesson for everyone to get involved in looking after the city. Some "hands on" stuff---painting, cleaning, picking up trash, when you see something undone---do it. That's what civic engagement is about.

Now, I would like to see repeat taggers prosecuted or put their talents to far better use (see civic engagement, above). So put our money into those cops who go and keep a lid on taggers.

Hi Dave:

I like the idea and know it has been floated before.

The stumbling block - Pivot and the BC Civil Libs and their complaint that the practice would hurt the dumpster divers.

Dave, there was a project proposed a couple of years back in 5 BIA areas to move those commercial districts to a dumpster free model as you have described. The Waste Haulers made life so difficult for everyone - including city staff that the project was abandoned. Now that we have a new head of Engineering Services (Peter Judd) there may be more appetite to try it again.

As for PIVOT and dumpster diving, hopefully, we will stop considering it as a legitimate way to earn a living, in the same way we will hopefully reject the notion that a mat on the floor substitutes for housing.

@ Julia & Max et al

Thanks for the comments

I note that the same issues were prevelant in Toronto and Seattle and were quickly overcome.

Both Cities used a carrot and stick approach to encourage waste haulers as well as their own Sanitation Departments to be vigilant.

In speaking with officials in both Cities they noted that Vancouver is different in that was have a cash recycling program for bottles and cans.

However, it was noted that this can be very easily overcome by placing those items out for collection in blue boxes or seperately. They both stated they are having tremendous buy in by residents and business once the kinks were ironed out.

As for Pivot and the bogus "dumpster diving living" argument, one official just laughed and said that sometimes you just have to move forward because if you listen to everyone (especially those who make a living out of the "povery industry") you will never accomplish anything.

I can assure you when I am elected I will push for such a program to be given at least trial.

It has to start somewhere.

If you never start you will never know!

@Dave Pasin
you know, if you can stop the never ending chaos, of the dumpster diving and the ripping garbage bags apart for deserve everyone's vote!!

Keeping bottles separate in a bin would discourage the frenzy.

Based on this idea alone, you are looking like a man I can vote for.

As a former dumpster-diver, I'm sure that Andrea Reimer will be all over this!

Why aren't taggers fined?

There was a case successfully prosecuted on the Island where the teen's parents were held financially responsible.

Max I used to own some buildings in a small alberta city and spent a small fortune on removal,it was difficult for me because I live hear.It got so bad there that the city put a large fine,I think it was $2000,the parents were responsible to pay,within a week the problem was solved.I found it kind of funny because the kids in their rebellious nature would still tag but with a sharpy in hard to see places and only about two inches square lol.that I could deal with.Kids will be kids.

I forgot to mention I used a spray product called graffiti gone it worked pretty well but sooner or later I would have to paint the walls,and thats a large cost because I had to hire the work out as I live here(not hear lol)

the problem is that most prolific taggers are not kids!

@Max. Forgot to note my research on enforcement. Substantial fines never happen. JPs won't hand them out. If kids get caught they'd be lucky to be fined $25.

for charges to stick, they literally have to catch the guy with a spray can in hand... finishing up the 'artwork', and then submit a portfolio of evidence that he has tagged in the identical way before.

Given it is not a public safety issue, it is way down the list of priorities for police and the courts.

That is why it is so confusing that city management thought they had the problem licked - to me that is a diversion from the true fact that they knew nothing about the issue and were not interested in hearing from the police or the community on the subject.

Mike if you look at medicine hats graffiti bylaw the fine is $2500 and from what I saw it worked for me.

Since Gregor was elected our Fairview/Mt Pleasant area ..newly named SoHo neighborhood, it has become a tagging mecca..

the taggers are considered "Artists" by their peers...since the day after the election, the neighborhood has become a ghetto..

is anyone seeing a theme here...

graffiti gone where can I buy it???

Hey George I used to get it at the local home depot in town,it works not to bad and my buildings were white.

amazing, thanks gman,

that will save a great deal of work...maybe paint every other time..

can't believe I just said that... sigh..

George it was brought to canada by Gilles Guay,its made by Multi Paint corp.Alhambra California.Its citric based biodegradable and I think they have a graffiti block product also,happy scrubbin,cheers.

I will have to suggest to the strata that they invest in that product.

We have proper brick what has been tagged and not removed due to the city's backoff on the bylaw, and well, we pay for the 'removal' out of pocket.

I will suggest we invest in the paint or spray, whatever....which is cheaper than the $300.00 per removal cost.

I'll come over and do it for you Max
I have lots of experience.. :-)

@ Mike;

The case was in Langford on the Island, it is now on 'paper' and a start for other municipalities and cities

I grabbed this: (Feb. 24, 2011)

A graffiti tagger who caused $30,000 in vandalism across Langford three years ago has settled damages with the City in a precedent-setting civil court case.

On Thursday, a judge in Victoria Supreme Court authorized an settlement between the man – who is now in his early 20s, but was underage at the time of the offenses – his parents and the City of Langford.

The man has agreed to pay Langford $1,800 in damages over 18 months and commit to 100 hours of community service, which the court deems to be worth $7,500 total. He also has to pay Cedric Steele Realty $885 and Pacific Coast Floor Covering $269 for damages. His parents have agreed to pay $2,000 to the Goldstream Food Bank.

Aren't you lucky George....

I understand Meggs may be throwing is hat into the NDP ring in your area....

Not TOO it?

On a similar note:

Couldn't help note the pic of Aaron Jasper standing in front of the Bloedel Conservatory talking about how they (parks) will spend (I prefer invest) $1M to fix the 'roof'.

Cheeky bastard looking for a photo op....

He wanted to shut them down!


I don't even think he lives in our area...but it is voter rich for his union friends..

just watching Council meeting...

It is embarrassing..

Can't see the Graffiti Gone product anywhere online. If anyone lucks out, please let me know.

Brick is nasty to clean. Most companies won't even guarantee it unless it is sealed.

Interesting how graffiti is viewed as a victimless crime yet at $3-400 a tag it sure seems otherwise.

ha ha Max,

so did Commissioner Blyth as she said they wanted to focus on "Green Buildings" but she had to be quickly educated on the fact that Blodel was the very first "Green Building in Vancouver"

How many years ago? So I guess Vision wasn't the first group to be "Green"

Sorry, forgot to mention the Jasper pic was in this week's WE...

'Commissioner' Blyth needs an education on a lot of things. And I will leave it at that.

oh no Julia don't say that...

Perhaps use a wire brush with the product.

Cadman at Council right now blathering on about how badly we need water meters...

how much does anyone want to bet that many landlords that now pay for water, will now have a remedy to raise many seniors and low income will lose their housing over this one..

we are surrounded by ocean... WTH!

Julia,I got so frustrated trying to find it online I phoned cambie home depot and they said they have it,hope this helps

don't you know skateboard parks are a hub for educational pursuits?

Who needs a real education when you can attend Hollyhock college?


Are you stoned...???

Welcome to Hollyhock, have we got job for you.

How do you feel about being 'green'

It is much easier than in Kermitt's days....

George cadman is the most dangerous one of the bunch,just read his bio,a real international man alright.If he gets his way you will have to change your address to the the city of vancouver in the united nations of the world.

sadly gman we paid for it..

Sadly George the average joe dosnt even know what the I.C.L.E. is,sadly this city will be blytted,sadly everybody that spoke at that meeting was profiting from it.And in the most unproductive ways.When the city cant pay its way now how can we add useless feelgood crap like this.Dont even get me going on planned blyte and expropriation.

I wish I could spell gooder I ment blight.


Thanks George its the blood pressure.........oooommmmmm.

Check out!

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