Resident urges action on tagging 'epidemic'

John Gleeson/Staff Writer / Staff writer
February 14, 2014 01:00 AM

Gibsons public works director Greg Foss shows resident Jon Hird the damage caused to a stop sign when graffiti remover was applied to erase markings left by a tagger. Hird was appearing at Tuesday's committee of the whole meeting to urge the Town to get serious about removing tags promptly.

Tagging has become an epidemic in Gibsons and not enough is being done to deal with the blight, resident Jon Hird told council's committee of the whole on Feb. 11.

"There's only one strategy -prompt removal of the tags," said Hird, who serves as coordinator for Sunshine Coast Speed Watch.

During a 10-day period last month, Hird documented 254 examples of tags defacing public and private properties throughout the town.

"This particularly offensive practice cannot be categorized as 'public art' or graffiti as it communicates nothing and has no cultural or socially redeeming value," Hird wrote in a letter to Mayor Wayne Rowe and council. "This is willful damage to property, plain and simple. It is a crime and, quite literally, a stain upon the community."

In his letter, Hird urged council "to embark on a comprehensive, effective and ongoing program of tag removal using Town of Gibsons resources regardless of the location or status of the property affected."

At Tuesday's committee meeting, Rowe noted that Sunshine Coast RCMP Staff Sgt. Herb Berdahl had reported to council that RCMP were investigating the incidents.

"It's something we have asked the RCMP very much to focus on," Rowe said.

But Hird said the emphasis on apprehending the culprits doesn't get the job done.

"The RCMP keeps reminding us that the very best strategy is to remove the tags," he said. "That robs the bad guy of any reward they would get of seeing their handiwork up there."

Hird said he recognized it was a problem for the Town because the majority of tags are not on municipal property. One thing the Town can do, he said, is contact agencies and businesses whose properties have been tagged and "remind them that they are obliged to repair the damage in short order."

Planning director Andre Boel said staff does contact owners of defaced properties, but some government agencies and utilities such as BC Hydro are "not very keen" on removing the tags, as they "also have their resources to balance and priorities to pick."

With Town staff having limited time, Coun. Gerry Tretick suggested a community committee could be formed to work with the Town bylaw officer and RCMP.

"They could actually go out and deal with it. We've had people work in the Landing, helping with flowers and beautifying. So I don't see any difference, as getting rid of ugly stuff is beautifying," Tretick said.

Coun. Lee Ann Johnson said the most effective strategies in the past have been to work with schools and teachers to "help identify the current crop of taggers," and quickly remove tags when they do appear.

"Tagging is a horrifically expensive crime and kids think it's a joke. It's not a joke," Johnson said.

Public works director Greg Foss said about 20 stop signs are tagged each year in Gibsons, creating a visibility problem for drivers. Removing the tags from a sign's reflective diamond grade surface also poses a problem, he said, as graffiti remover "takes the whole sign off."

A stop sign costs about $50 to replace, he said, and while a graffiti film could be applied to make some tags erasable, it would add an extra $25 to the unit price and would have limited effectiveness.

"It's a cost to the community, for sure, so as a community we need to curb this type of behaviour," Rowe said, adding that he encouraged anyone with information about the individuals behind the tagging to contact the bylaw enforcement officer or RCMP.

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