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To fight graffiti, L.A. Council may restrict spraypaint sales

July 6, 2009 |  6:55 pm

In its continuing effort to reduce graffiti, the Los Angeles City Council is considering expanding restrictions on the sale of aerosol spraypaint cans and other materials to people under 21.

At the request of Councilmen Dennis Zine, Greig Smith and Eric Garcetti, the public safety committee today asked city lawyers to work on a possible ordinance that would outlaw sales to anyone under 21, after seeking recommendations from the Los Angeles Police Department and the city’s legislative analysts.

“We need to make it as tough as possible if we’re going to get serious on the eradication of graffiti in the city of Los Angeles.  Otherwise it’s cosmetic, it does no good and people continually look at us to say ‘What are you doing to fix this problem that is terrorizing neighborhoods?’ ” Zine said Monday during the public safety committee meeting.

Lawyers said there is already a state law prohibiting the sale of spraypaint cans and etching cream to those under 18. Zine said he hoped the council would raise that age limit to 21, and consider other options such as requiring spraypaint purchasers to show identification or making it a crime for a minor to carry spray paint. The city already requires retailers to keep the paint cans in a locked container. 

“As we can see by driving down any freeway," Zine said, "the current laws aren’t working. They are absolutely being ignored and the consequences aren’t severe enough to have an impact.”

In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has signed a series of laws aimed at reducing graffiti.  The city banned the sale of spraypaint cans, etching acids and indelible markers to persons under 21 in 2007 -- an expansion of an earlier law that restricted sales of graffiti instruments to those under 18. In 2005, the New York City Council also began requiring property owners with six or more units to remove graffiti from their property within 60 days of receiving notice from the city or face a penalty of up to $300.

Chicago passed a ban on the sale of spraypaint cans and indelible markers within city limits in 1992. Shortly after, the National Paint & Coatings Assn. filed a lawsuit challenging the law and was joined by a group of paint retailers and other businesses.

A federal judge overturned Chicago’s spraypaint ban in 1993, but the city appealed to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, which found the restriction to be constitutional. The plaintiffs appealed to the Supreme Court, which denied the request for appeal in March of 1995. The ban went into effect in April of 1995 after a one-month grace period for retailers to adjust.

-- Maeve Reston at L.A. City Hall