April 21st, 2024

Graffiti abatement strategy discussed at task force meeting

By Al Beeber - Lethbridge Herald on March 30, 2024.

Herald photo by Al Beeber Graffiti is seen on the second storey of a downtown building. Cleaning up graffiti is a task that the Downtown Lethbridge Business Revitalization Zone has to deal with regularly.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDabeeber@lethbridgeherald.com

Visitors and business downtown regularly see the work of “artists” who deface buildings with their graffiti.

Cleaning up that graffiti is a task that the Downtown Lethbridge Business Revitalization Zone has undertaken and its staff have already taken care of dozens this year.

Sarah Amies, executive director of the BRZ and a member of the Downtown Lawlessness Reduction Task Force, discussed the graffiti problem and the BRZ’s abatement strategy Thursday morning at a meeting of the task force in council chambers.

Graffiti is presently being removed from private buildings and properties in downtown with boundaries being east from the river valley to the westside of Stafford Drive South and heading north from 6 Ave. to the Crowsnest Trail which includes Park Place Mall.

“It does seem the incidents of tagging is increasing,” Amies told the task force.

In 2022, the BRZ removed 88 graffiti tags and in 2023, it cleaned up 405.

In 2024 so far, the BRZ has removed 132 graffiti tags to date, she added.

“Given that this is the winter months, that’s amazing,” said Amies, noting the BRZ took advantage of warmer weather between March 1-18 to remove 104 of those tags.

“The tags range in size from small scribbles to mural size tags,” Amies said.

Tags are removed by using chemicals including acetone, methyl hydrate or repainting surfaces.

One product, known as “elephant snot,” is used and it costs $700 for a five-gallon pail, the task force heard.

One prominent tagger, known as Mr. Juice, who advertised his skills on Facebook, has been arrested, Amies said.

Each method of removal has its own set of complexities, Amies said. A paint matcher was recently purchased by the BRZ to help with the work with patchwork efforts and mismatched painting almost looking worse than the actual tagging, she said. With more sophisticated equipment, the BRZ could do a better job “keeping the downtown looking as good as it can,” she said.

Graffiti artists are putting their work in a range of places including roofs of businesses downtown.

Among factors the BRZ has to consider when dealing with graffiti is permission from a property owner to tackle an example. The has an online reporting tool and people can also contact the BRZ by phone or email.

Favourable weather is also needed because in the cold equipment fails, employee safety is compromised and certain paints won’t adhere to surfaces. Overnight temperatures need to be above 5C for proper adhesion outside. Insulated water sources is also needed on cold days.

And access is an issue the BRZ has to consider. Sometimes cleaners have to crawl over a lip onto a roof so keeping workers safe is a priority and work areas have to be safe to work, Amies said.

The task force also heard a presentation from chief fire marshall Troy Hicks and deputy fire chief Kevin McKeown on alley fire mitigation.

The task force was told that fires are set when the opportunity arises.

Hicks said the fire department is reminding people to keep properties and outside sheds locked up, a reminder which also applies to residents with garages.

Hicks added people should keep their backyards lit up after dark, as well. A lot of buildings downtown have security cameras and people can ask the owners of those for footage if their properties are impacted.

McKeown said that from 2020-23 there were 165 events plotted on a map which included structure fire, dumpster/trash fires, piles of clothes on fire and explosions, vegetation/wildland grass fires, vehicle fires close to or threatening a building.

In 2022, the number of incidents was 33 and in 2023 there were 77, McKeown said in response to a question from acting mayor and committee member John Middleton-Hope.

So far in 2024, Hicks said the number of fires has been reduced. Last year, there were well over 20 fires being investigated at this time and this year so far there have been only five.

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