2009-07-15 / Front Page

Graffiti Removal Is Faster, Easier

Queens Borough President Helen Marshall and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, with city councilmembers, administration officials and Sunnyside Shines BID members, stand before a graffiti-laden building in Sunnyside as Bloomberg recounts the provisions of new graffiti removal legislation July 9. Queens Borough President Helen Marshall and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, with city councilmembers, administration officials and Sunnyside Shines BID members, stand before a graffiti-laden building in Sunnyside as Bloomberg recounts the provisions of new graffiti removal legislation July 9. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and the New York City Council last week announced new legislation to make it easier for the city to clean property defaced by graffiti and shift responsibility for cleanups from individual property owners to the city. The mayor also announced new steps that the Mayor's Office of Operations has implemented to streamline the process of locating graffiti and increase the resources available to clean it. This has resulted in nearly double the number of sites cleaned so far this year, compared to the same period 2007, even with an unusually rainy June that temporarily slowed progress. The mayor also announced a new paint donation from Sherwin Williams to the Mayor's Paint Program, which provides community groups with paint and supplies to clean their neighborhoods. The mayor was joined by Community Affairs Commissioner Nazli Parvizi, Economic Development Corporation President Seth W. Pinsky, Department of Sanitation First Deputy Commissioner Michael A. Bimonte, Mayor's Office of Operations Director Jeff Kay, Assemblymember Catherine Nolan, City Councilmembers Gale Brewer, Peter Vallone Jr., Eric Gioia and Leroy Comrie, Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, Sherwin Williams New York Metro District Manager Paul Szulecki and Sunnyside Shines Business Improvement District Executive Director Alyssa Bonilla in making the announcement.

"Graffiti is a pernicious and pervasive quality of life problem but our city agencies have made great strides in removing it from our neighborhoods," Bloomberg said. "We're cleaning more graffiti faster than ever before, and working with the city council, we are going to introduce legislation to make it easier and more efficient to continue doing that. City government, working with property owners and community residents will keep our neighborhoods beautiful and our city safer, cleaner and more livable."

"This new system will improve the efficiency of the city's graffiti abatement efforts," Quinn said. "By making it easier for property owners to participate in the city's free graffiti removal program, this legislation will also make it easier for the city to clean more sites in less time. I want to thank both Councilmember Brewer and the mayor for working so diligently on this legislation, as well as Councilmember Vallone for his tireless efforts on the issue."

The city's Graffiti Free NYC is a partnership between the Mayor's Community Affairs Unit, the Economic Development Corporation and the Department of Sanitation that offers free graffiti removal services to property owners who sign a waiver requesting removal. Since 2007, Graffiti Free NYC has significantly increased the number of graffiti sites cleaned by extending the graffiti-cleaning season. At the beginning of the cleaning season in April 2008, the backlog for requests was 3,260. Due to the extended cleaning season and other reforms the Bloomberg administration has implemented, there were only 1,000 requests on file in April 2009. To date that number has been further reduced to 400 requests, despite the rainy month of June.

In the first six months of 2008, the city removed graffiti from 3,478 sites. So far in 2009, the program has removed graffiti at 3,891 sites, totaling an estimated of 2.5 million square feet. In addition, more than 727,800 square feet of graffiti were removed by the Parks Department and almost 2,759,500 square feet of graffiti were cleaned off of streets, bridges and highways by the Department of Transportation, bringing the running total to 6 million square feet of graffiti removed by city agencies to date in 2009. In total last year, Graffiti Free NYC removed graffiti from a record 8,613 sites throughout the five boroughs.

The launch of the Street Conditions Observation Unit or SCOUT program, which since its inception in 2007 has traveled every block in New York City every month, reporting conditions that negatively impact quality of life directly to 311, has resulted in a 60 percent increase in graffiti identification. SCOUT operators discover graffiti before it is called into 311 by a member of the public, and use GPS equipped handheld devices to automatically report conditions to 311.

In response to these increased graffiti identifications, Deputy Mayor for Operations Ed Skyler asked the Mayor's Office of Operations to lead a multi-agency effort to address the increase in reports by making the cleaning process easier and more efficient. These reforms include making waiver forms available on the city Web site, www.nyc.gov, so requests can be automatically transmitted to the cleaning crews, securing 10 new graffiti powerwash trucks with federal funds (for a total of 27), creating more efficient routes for the trucks and centralizing accountability in one agency, the Department of Sanitation. As part of the centralization, a new database was created within the Department of Sanitation to track waivers and graffiti cleanup.

"Whether it's a community board, a block association or just a few neighbors getting together, every New Yorker has the power to make an impact in their community," Parvizi said. "By working with our many community partners, the Mayor's Community Affairs Unit is able to keep our neighborhoods graffiti free and ensure that our city remains the greatest place to live, work and visit."

"New York City's streets are now the cleanest they've been in nearly 35 years," Sanitation Commissioner John J. Doherty said. "But one wall covered by illegal graffiti might send a different message to New Yorkers and visitors alike. The Sanitation Department is pleased to be a part of the hard-working Graffiti Free NYC team that toils each and every day to rid our great city of the spoils of graffiti vandals.'

"Since its inception, Graffiti-Free NYC has removed graffiti covering more than 170 million square feet of New York City's buildings," Pinsky said. "Eliminating blight from our neighborhoods and improving quality of life for all New Yorkers is vital to attracting and retaining our city's greatest resource, our talented and motivated workforce, making it good economic development policy."

The Bloomberg administration and the city council are now finalizing legislation to further streamline the graffiti cleaning process by empowering the city to clean more graffiti and easing the burden on property owners. Currently, property owners, who are often victims of graffiti vandalism, are required to address graffiti on their property or face fines. Rather than requiring property owners to 'opt in' to city cleanups, they will now only be required to 'opt out' from automatic cleaning by city agencies. This would give property owners the option of choosing to keep any graffiti they consider artwork by notifying the city, while expediting repair of vandalism. The bill is expected to be introduced shortly.

"Graffiti adversely affects businesses, residents, and neighborhood quality of life. For years, my office has worked together with the Mayor's Office of Community Affairs and the NYPD in personally reaching out to owners for written permission to rid their buildings of graffiti," Gale Brewer said. "This bill creates a pro-active, simple, and far-sighted way to expedite the removal of graffiti, and will make it easier for the city to aid businesses and residents in keeping our streets and neighborhoods graffiti-free."

"The law I wrote in 2005 has successfully allowed the city to clean many businesses and large residential buildings," Vallone said. "I commend Mayor Bloomberg for making it an even more effective anti-graffiti tool."

"New Yorkers expect and deserve to have clean, graffiti-free neighborhoods," Gioia said. "Graffiti can make even a good neighborhood look bad, and nothing makes me prouder than the city banding together to ensure that our streets, buildings, and sidewalks stay clean."

The mayor also announced that Sherwin Williams has generously agreed to donate the paint needed for the Mayor's Paint Program, which is run by the Mayor's Community Affairs Unit through the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City. The Mayor's Paint Program, which enhances the efforts of the mayor's citywide anti-graffiti initiative, gives community and volunteer groups the supplies and paints to execute their own cleanup projects. Since the program's inception, the city has worked with close to 200 community organizations. Community groups can obtain paint for exterior projects by calling 311.

"The Sherwin-Williams Paint Company is pleased to donate paint and supplies to support the Mayor's Graffiti Free NYC program," Szulecki said. "Sherwin-Williams looks forward to continuing our partnership with the city to achieve a Graffiti Free NYC."

The announcement was made July 9 in Sunnyside, where, according to the citywide Customer Service Survey, 27 percent of residents in Community Board 2 ranked graffiti control in their neighborhood poor.

"I have long been a supporter of the antigraffiti measures here in Sunnyside and throughout the rest of Queens," said Nolan. "My office has worked closely with the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce and SUNN to tackle graffiti in our community. We are proud that Mayor Bloomberg had chosen our neighborhood to expand this program."

"New Yorkers expect and deserve to have clean, graffiti-free neighborhoods," Gioia said. "Graffiti can make even a good neighborhood look bad, and nothing makes me prouder than the city banding together to ensure that our streets, buildings, and sidewalks stay clean."

"Sunnyside Shines' mission is to support our local merchants by creating a safe and welcoming atmosphere for shoppers," Bonilla said. "Helping Greenpoint Ave look its best is part of that. We encourage all New Yorkers to support the local merchants in their neighborhoods."

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