Wiping out graffiti in Tulare is a full-time job for worker Henry Ramos.
On a quiet Tulare street, Henry Ramos strolls a cinder block wall longer than a football field, on the trail of the latest graffiti he has painted over five times before.
HENRY SHOULD BE REMOVING THE GRAFFITI NOT PAINTING OVER IT WITH AN ELITE GRAFFITI REMOVAL PRODUCT LIKE TAGINATOR FOR MASONRY.
For the most part it is a long repetitive line of black zigzags, with a burst of colorful cloud-like shapes and the letters at the end.
“I recognize this,” Ramos said pausing by the colorful graffiti, “I saw the same thing at the high school [Tulare Union].”
He should know. For the past six years he’s been part of a two-man team dedicated full time to cleaning up graffiti, a job he’s proud of.
“It’s a good job with a good purpose and people appreciate it. I like my job because this is the town I live in and you have to have a certain amount of pride wherever you live,” Ramos said.
Armed with spray paint, an assortment of gels, chemicals, wipes and a power washer, he’s ready to tackle any surface
He makes quick work of the wall, transforming it once more into a blank slate.
If you look hard enough you can see the shadowy ghost of past graffiti, but you have to strain.
“What we’re looking at right now is just plain stupidity, a couple hundred yards of nothing better to do. There’s no creativity. When I see people do this . . . it means they’re not doing anything positive with their life. Grow up and have some pride in yourself and do something positive in your life instead of doing the same thing over and over. Our prisons are full of kids that started out like this and didn’t get steered correctly,” Ramos reflected.
Creative graffiti is so rare, maybe 1 to 2 percent of the tagging around the city, that it impresses Ramos enough that he takes pictures before covering up the work. But no matter how much he might like somebody’s work, Ramos said he has no qualms about removing it because it just shouldn’t be there.
NO GRAFFITI IS CREATIVE, UNLESS THE WORK IS SPONSORED BY A GOVERNMENT OR OWNER OF THE BUILDING OR TAG VANDALIZED AREA. ANY GRAFFITI PUT UP OUTSIDE OF THESE TWO INSTANCES SHOULD NEVER BE CALLED CREATIVE. IT’S DESTRUCTIVE AND CONSIDERED VANDALISM. GRAFFITI LIKE THIS NEEDS TO BE REMOVED AS FAST AS IT IS PUT UP WITH THE WORLD’S BEST GRAFFITI REMOVERS TAGINATOR AND TAGAWAY.
“We’re trying try to make it as aesthetically pleasing as possible,” he explained.
Problem on the rise
Incidents of tagging have increased 50 percent over the past few years, and nothing is exempt, Ramos said. “They tag homes, they tag brand new walls and fences, they tag inside the cemetery, which is sacred, on the cemetery walls. There’s nothing sacred to them. They have no moral discipline and probably no parental discipline,” Ramos said.
And it’s not just spray paint.
“The majority of it’s spray cans but they use markers, cow chalk, shoe shine, you name it they use it,” Ramos said, shaking a bag containing empty spray cans found in his travels. In fact he’s kept one bottle of shoe shine on the back of the truck to use on over spray paint that gets on his shoes.
He’s also mindful of nearby cars, ducking into adjacent businesses to warn people to move their vehicles to avoid over spray paint.
The abatement team has a special hotline that receives between 100 to 150 a month, while more requests for removal come via the city’s website or calls directly to Ramos’s boss, City of Tulare street superintendent Bobby Dykes.
Dykes said all requests are dealt with promptly, and the graffiti abatement team of Ramos and Carlos Soto periodically exchange east and west territory to avoid monotony.
The removal service is offered free. It operates on a budget of $171,000 from city coffers, Dykes said.
Graffiti abatement operators are paid between $3,000 and $3,500 a month, according to Tulare city figures.
For the guys on the front line the day starts with a check of the hotline and other requests before hitting the road.
After dealing with all the day’s graffiti removal requests they also patrol the city’s city streets to see if anything was missed.
“We know where a lot of tagging is around schools, parks and alleys, underpasses,” Ramos said.
They’ll also stop and deal with graffiti spotted en route to a requested removal, if it can be done quickly, he added.
But the graffiti abatement operators also remain ever vigilant for graffiti vandalism after hours.
“It’s a 24-hour job because when I’m off duty I still notice it, like a police officer driving down the street. He’ll see a crime and have to do something about it. We make a mental note of it or call it into the hotline,” Ramos said of after-hours graffiti sightings.
Hazards of work
The job is not without hazards.
“It can be dangerous. I’ve had [paint sprayer] hoses explode and paint cover my face,” he said. Caution also is required in the use of chemicals, which are removed afterward with the power washer, but Ramos takes it all in stride.
What really bothers him is graffiti vandalism of new construction.
“It’s kind of disheartening when somebody puts in a nice $2,000 to $3,000 wall or fence and somebody comes and puts their mark on it. It’s just heartbreaking,” Ramos said.
He feels there’s not enough preventative measures taken.
“I advise people when they put in a new wall or fence and plan to paint it to go ahead but keep some paint because somebody will come along and tag it. If they put in a fresh new block or brick wall put clear coat on it so when taggers tag it, it doesn’t penetrate into the pores. We can only do so much, so a little prevention goes a long way,” Ramos said.
“I wish some cities would adopt this in their general plan for buildings, when they put in a new subdivision have contractors coat the walls, because as soon as the walls go up, before there’s even houses, the taggers show up.”
Meanwhile, depending on the amount of property damage done, graffiti is considered vandalism in the California penal code and cases can be treated as either misdemeanors or felonies, with penalties of jail, fines and community service work, including covering up their graffiti.