Yakima revisits approach to 'rampant' graffiti problem

Yakima revisits approach to 'rampant' graffiti problem
YAKIMA, Wash. -- Yakima’s new plan to fight the city’s rampant graffiti problem includes putting more resources into abatement, as well as legal changes to the way graffiti victims are treated.

Yakima leaders felt current laws ended up hurting those who got tagged with graffiti through no fault of their own.

As it stands now, you've got nearly two weeks to cover graffiti on your property or face a $400 fine and a lien. A new proposal would do away with those penalties.

KIMA spoke with the owners of a property near 16th and Tieton last year. They received that notice from the city: clean up or pay up.

We caught up with that same family more than a year later. They say the fence is still a target for taggers and that they've been slapped with more than one notice from the city since our story aired.

The news of a friendlier approach to homeowners was welcomed.

"I was scared because I've never had issues with the law; I've never been called to court,” said Karelys Davis. “No one came and talked to us...I was surprised."

Yakima now wants to give you five-days to remove the tagging. It's less time, but you can also get help from the city if you can't cover it yourself.

City leaders say the current code essentially punished property owners for being victims.

KIMA asked, "In hindsight, that $400 seemed a little heavy-handed?"

"Yeah, cities are like anyone else,” said Senior Assistant City Attorney Mark Kunkler. “We live and learn and often there's a better approach that's revealed."

Yakima also wants to spend hire a part-time coordinator to manage the city's volunteer graffiti crews.

A member of the Gang unit would also investigate graffiti crimes. That function was eliminated years ago as a money saver.

“There's probably no other way around it if the city wants the fences to be clean, but at least a different approach makes me feel a little better,” Davis said.

Still, the new code doesn't go without some power for the city. Yakima said it would be allowed to come on your property without warning, if you fail to act or ignore clean-up notices.

The city would take control of the painting themselves.

KIMA learned Yakima is also working on an electronic reporting system for code violations.

You'd be able to submit complaints online or with your phone.

It's another way for city leaders to get your concerns on everything from graffiti to overgrown yards.

Yakima City Manager Tony O'Rourke expects this to help address chronic problems and clean up the city.

"The public doesn't like it nor should we," said Yakima City Manager Tony O'Rourke. "We need to be more aggressive...clearly there's been efforts in the past, but clearly we need to ramp those up."

Work is still being done on the new reporting system. It's expected to be up and running this year.

The proposed graffiti changes will be presented to city council members on Tuesday.

Yakima City Manager Tony O'Rourke says they're on board with the proposal.