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Anaheim business owner caught between city laws and taggers

February 16, 2010 | 11:04 am

When taggers spray painted the windows of Rosa Bobbio's tiny upholstery shop in Anaheim, she called the police, who told her it was the city’s responsibility.

But the city told her she owed them $466.66 in fines and fees for not replacing her defaced windows at Century Custom Upholstery. Bobbio's experience is similar to that of other business owners in Southern California who find themselves caught between the zero-tolerance policies of municipal governments and the persistent destruction of taggers.

"I know the city needs money, but I cannot afford to pay all this,” said Bobbio, who has run the shop with her brother for decades. “Business is terrible right now.”

Graffiti is so prevalent in Anaheim that even the trees and light poles cannot escape taggers, Bobbio said. Vandals most recently hit her shop on South East Street on Sunday night, covering her windows in blue spray paint and her walls in black, gold and purple. That was just days after vandals scratched markings into her glass windows.

She usually cleans up the graffiti herself or a neighbor will grab a bucket of paint and cover the scrawls. But glass vandalism is another matter. Late last year, taggers etched crude scrawls into her windows, something a generous coat of paint could not fix. Bobbio balked at the $1,700 cost of replacing them, so the markings remained there for months until the city fined her for not repairing them.

Anaheim officials said the city had been working to solve the problem since October, when they first responded to reports of graffiti on Bobbio’s building.

“Graffiti is the responsibility of the business owners,” said Ruth Ruiz, a spokeswoman for the city of Anaheim. “If she continues to speak with the city or needs additional assistance, she can just contact our code enforcement, and we can work with them.”

Ruiz said the city often sends crews to remove graffiti or provides paint for small-business owners to do it themselves, and the city last year started the Anaheim Community Anti-Graffiti Effort, a coalition of residents, business owners, police and code-enforcement officers charged with tackling the graffiti problem.

"The surest way to deter graffiti is to eliminate graffiti,” she said

After Bobbio was fined, she contacted Mike Schuch of Xlnt Tint of Anaheim, who decided to test, for free, a new protection process he had been working on. He pasted a protective film on some of her windows late last week and had planned to return this week to finish the job.

But right after he treated the windows, vandals scraped into them again.

“I’m sitting here waiting for my shipment of new pads, so I can go finish this job.… it’s just disheartening,” Schuch said.

Still, he said, repairing the windows should be relatively quick. The only outstanding issue then would be the $466.66 fine. But Bobbio remains adamant.

“I’m not gonna pay no fine – I think I got my rights too,” Bobbio said. “Who’s going to control these people? If the city doesn’t control these people, what can I do?”

-- Amina Khan