San Jose Can Win Battle Against Graffiti

For every big city, graffiti too often presents a Sisyphean challenge. Volunteers and abatement crews diligently work to clean it up—particularly the gang-related tags that most demoralize and threaten residents—only to see the same markings return a couple of days later.  

Yet our experience with graffiti also demonstrates the “broken windows” theory of crime: just as one broken window in an abandoned industrial building will yield to far more vandalism if the window isn’t repaired, where we leave graffiti unabated, taggers will become emboldened. Their work will infect other parts of a neighborhood’s streetscape, and other signs of disorder and crime—drug dealing, vagrancy, gang activity—will soon follow.

Happily, community engagement and innovation have combined to lighten our burden in recent months—with positive results to prove it. As revealed in a recent report to Council, the City’s efforts to implement its “SAN JOSE CLEAN” smartphone application has vastly boosted reporting of graffiti tags, and volunteers now report graffiti ten times more often by the mobile phone application—over 1,300 such reports in June alone—than by phone calls.

The software enables users to photograph the vandalism, report its precise GPS location, and send the photo to the graffiti contractor, all with a tap on the device’s screen. You can easily download this easy-to-use application to your device by searching for the keywords “San Jose Clean"on the on-line iPhone app store or Droid market. Of course, we continue to respond to more traditional means of reporting graffiti remain as well: anyone can request a clean-up by emailing [email protected], or calling 866.249.0543.

The controversial outsourcing of our graffiti abatement services has overcome its bumpy start to post strong results over the past year. Nobody relishes the idea of seeing effective and hard-working city employees lose their jobs to outside contractors, but the solid performance of the contractor, Graffiti Protective Coatings Inc. (GPC), softens the blow: In high-graffiti areas, 98 percent of the graffiti last year was abated within 24 hours of a report. Citywide, GPC completed over 33,000 such work orders within 48 hours of the complaint, 91 percent of the time. Meanwhile, the City saved over $300,000 in its anti-graffiti efforts, and will likely save even more this year, as GPC’s work has resulted in a steady decline in the volume of graffiti since the spike in 2010-11.

Volunteers have proven critical to this cause, with over 3,600 San Jose residents participating. Innovative ideas have sprung from these volunteers as well: Last year, Vendome neighborhood leader Tina Morrill launched an effort that is steadily transforming many streetscapes: the ArtBox Program. By leveraging donations and micro-grants, Morrill has enlisted professional and amateur artists to beautify dozens of utility boxes throughout San Jose. Taggers appear far more reluctant to spray graffiti over artists’ work;  whether or not there is honor among thieves, it apparently exists among taggers. Volunteers apply a protective spray coating over the art to make subsequent removal of the graffiti easier.

Of course, we have much more work to do, and at last week’s Council meeting, I pushed forward two initiatives that Council approved. First, we’ll explore an expansion of our partnership with the Juvenile Court and Probation Department, to put arrested taggers to work cleaning the graffiti. Currently, those juvenile probationers account for only 0.6 percent of our cleanup response, and opportunities for expanded partnerships (e.g. with the Downtown Association’s PBID program) in supervising the youngsters could aid our efforts both to suppress graffiti and to put the youth on a better path.

Second, the graffiti along our freeways and railroads remains abominable. The City of San Jose lacks the jurisdictional authority (despite our best efforts) to clean graffiti in those locations, and I’ve called for more aggressive efforts against Union Pacific and CalTrans to force them to clean up, or to erect fences and other barriers to prevent access to taggers. Among the ideas I’m pushing: the installation of signs with CalTrans phone numbers for residents to call 510. 286.4444, or through their website to improve accountability.

We’ll continue pushing forward with better approaches to combat graffiti, but we’ll also continue to depend on your help. Please report graffiti wherever you see it, and if you have any free time, come join the hundreds of volunteers who help us keep San Jose beautiful!

Sam Liccardo is a San Jose councilmember for downtown’s District 3.


  1. Yes , I would like to report an Idiot impersonating a Council member . Graffiti is sign of the times , it goes hand-in -hand with Gang violence . all you have to do is look at last nights 2 murders to realize gang violence is on the rise , thanks to Sam Liccardo , & Reed + 4 . You and commrades have made San Jose a much more dangerous place to live. You can spew all your misinformation all you want but the reality is San Jose residents DO NOT BELIEVE YOU !! YOU & REED + 4 ARE ALL CONFIRMED LIARS!!!  we are closing in on Record Homicides along with over 300 violent acts that Council never discusses . Thanks Sam , Thanks to you I now have to buy a gun for home protection . P.D. and F.D. are stretched to the limits but you and the rest of your Regime continue to decimate our public safety. the best thing you can do for San Jose ……………is leave !

  2. That’s great. Now you can take that $300,000 and pay off the lawyer bill for pulling Measure B out of federal court. Is it because you knew you were going lose and did not want to pay the union lawyers bill later on?

    So councilman, how does it feel to waste tax payer money that way?
    Do you think that Measure B will survive in state court?

    How’s that PBID pay job going? Did anybody sign up?

    There’s been over 300 attempted murders in San Jose? Another homicide in your district? What are you doing to address it?

    It took officers 16 minutes get there last night, because they came from other districts.

    Now that you are vested in a city of San Jose pension through CalPERS, are you going to give it up? Or was that just BS thrown out there by Pete Constant about getting forgoing your pensions?

    See, it’s great that we outsourced jobs to a Los Angeles company, but their are more important questions on people’s minds? Just ask the 90 your old lady in Willow Glen.

  3. Thank you Council Member Liccardo for educating us on how we can get involved, work together, and keep our City free from graffiti.

    It’s important to note that simply painting over graffiti doesn’t help catch those who are doing it. We must take photos, report it, and then it can be removed. It is only by working together that we can win the battle.

    Tina, you are awesome! Thank you so much for being such a wonderful guardian of our City, and our youth! Big hugs to you!

    • report it to who?  We no longer have a graffiti Abatement Unit.  That was cut along with most investigative units at the police department. I suggest the pictures get sent directly to Chuck and Sam.

      • Rick,
        My understanding is that this information is passed on to the PD, and when violators have been identified, it is sent to the DA’s Office for prosecution. Is that incorrect information? I would sure like to know! Thanks for any info you can give me Rick.

        • The graffiti unit was the only unit in the PD tasked with investigating and identifying this form of vandalism. If any additional identification of vandals to occur, it will have to be done at the street level and by beat cops. AS you can imagine, it will be quite rare for beat cops to be able to devote time to this pursuit, considering how few there are and how thinly their resources are stretched. Furthermore, beat cops do not have access in the field to all the resources that are available to detectives working out of the police department compound.

          Returning to the issue of available free patrol time, I just don’t think it’s that common anymore, certainly not in light of times such as these where, the other night, for instance, there were 45 pending calls for service while the PD was investigating two homicides simultaneously. What once was extraordinary for its rarity is now routine with there being more days than ever where at any given time you could have dozens – if not scores – of calls for service pending. Consider, too, that these are calls which remain despite the PD, as a matter of policy, no longer responding to a number of different types of calls.

        • Thank you Officer A.

          Why doesn’t the City partner with businesses to get corporate funding/grants to reinstate these programs? I just don’t get how ignorant these leaders are being!

          Think out of the box people!

        • Thank you Officer A. It is depressing to know that citizens are being asked to join in and assist the City to reduce graffiti, when it seems all they really want is free labor, and zero consequences for those committing the crime! 

          I seriously don’t get it. Graffiti is a property crime, that attacks crime, decreases business, and creates blight!

          There are so many grants available to fund these programs, and many corporations who could donate too. Donations would be a tax write off for them.

          Officer A., how much money is needed to fund these vital programs?

          I think I’ll send the City Manager, the Mayor, the Council, etc. a request to at least try getting donations/grants because this is just ridiculous!

        • Kathleen, I like to refer to what’s going on over at city hall as a major case of cranial-rectal inversion when it comes to Chuck+5. I can’t believe I read about a bit from Liccardo extolling the virtues of hiring GPC to handle graffiti removal. Weren’t they the company which was massively overcharging the city and then ran overbudget and asked for more money? How do you call where we are now “getting over a bumpy start”? Graffiti is out of control and, with no fear of consequences, vandals clearly see the city as a free fire zone.

  4. San Jose can’t win the battle because you and Rose Herrrera voted to cut the police department so deeply that they have nobody left to investigate graffiti. Not to mention you two voted to send jobs out of San Jose and put the money into an LA company. Nice work. Send money out of the area……really wise. Is it any wonder thise city can’t balance the checkbook?

  5. Sam,
      The cave man was a tagger!
    What Tina Morell is doing is interesting. The city benches that were being painted with colorful scenes were also very nice.
    Get ahead of them. I did!
    Many years ago, I asked Richard Rios and Blanca alvarado, to establish an art program for taggers. at that time tagging wasn’t what it is today.
    Who knows why my idea did not spark with them.
    I set off to bring in a art teacher, and entablished Graffiti Corner. I brought in Hispanic leaders to paint as well.ALL SUCCESFUL I focused on Peter Burnett grammer school and brought in that whole class . It was so successful the faculty wanted their turn at Sand Fire and Imagination’s Gallery & Graffiti Corner.
    I recently found a stack of letters from the students from Peter Burnett. Each had a hand drawn aztec sign and their own words of what this visit did for them.
    I can only read so many before I began to choke up, it is a bitter sweet feeling.
      If you would like a demonstartion, contact me. bring me a few taggers, bring your self as well to paint. You will be amazed how 2 lessons will transform you and your fellow taggers. Bring along a VP from Silicon Valley with the money to supply materials in support.
      I feel that the criticium hurts our community more than paint on a fence.
    These are dark times for all of US.
      I hope this brightens up your DAY!

    Gil Hernandez


  6. The police dept had an aggressive graffiti tagging crew enforcement team. This team went out and did surveillance, took pictures and followed up with juvenile probation. They curbed the graffiti immensely. So why is the city covered with tagging, especially gang related? Because our great forward thinking council cut that program …. Keep up the good work fellas. The truth is that the slick group of 5 want police officers with experience to be driven out. Its cheaper to run short staffed and stretched to the limit and pay overtime until which time they can get their tier 2 people hired. The problem that these short sided and short minded people like Sam dont realize that the snow ball has started rolling. Its gaining momentum. Crime is up and it takes years to catch up with attrition, retirements, laid off cops and the others who are running to other agencies. They dont care about the hundreds of residential burglaries occurring in district 8 alone let alone the rest of the city. 10/4 burglars broke into homes in Roseys district. police chased them down to jackson 680 where after an extensive search they were caught. 10/5 burglars break into a house with shots fired at the homeowner off of toyon mckee! 3 homicides in the last 4 days. Another drive by shooting on ROberts at story rd last night. No one died so it wont be in the Murk. Armed robberies occurring every single day in SJ Graffiti is the least of our problems but hey it was under control just like the gang problem was before you wiped out VCET! Keep up the good work maybe the A’s will be coming to save the day. I am beyond disgusted with this councilman and his pathetic crew of misfits. Hey lets just make pay cars to patch up problems that have been created by the elimination of specialized units

  7. “Nobody relishes the idea of seeing effective and hard-working city employees lose their jobs to outside contractors, but the solid performance of the contractor, Graffiti Protective Coatings Inc. (GPC), softens the blow”

    You know Sammy, any time you put a ‘but’ in a sentence it effectively neutralizes everything written before it…  And by the way, Softens the blow to who exactly..?? The people you’re firing….? I’ll bet they wouldn’t feel that way….

    Hey just a quick note to thank you and the rest of the Fab 5 for totally screwing up this city…. It really has become fun walking around your district having to look over my shoulder to make sure that I’m not about to be mugged….

    Need proof…?  How about right after the start of the Rock and Roll Half Marathon yesterday morning at about 0830 there was a stabbing next to the starting line at Santa Clara and 1st…..  I don’t know about you Sam but that is not really ideal Family Entertainment in my book.  You and the rest of the Fab 5 better pull your heads out of the sand and take a look around at the mess you’ve created….!!!!

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