Santa Rosa to beautify graffiti-plagued neighborhood

March 21, 2011 1:17:56 PM PDT
In the South Park area of Santa Rosa where gang-related graffiti is a chronic problem, two artists' murals will soon brighten the visual landscape and help restore a sense of pride to the neighborhood.

The Santa Rosa Police Department's Graffiti Abatement Program and the city's Gateway Redevelopment Project solicited proposals for the murals, which will grace 111- and 114-foot fences on residential properties at 915 and 973 Aston Ave.

Eight artists submitted sketches of their proposed murals by the March 15 deadline. The winning artists will be announced March 29.

The brightly colored entries depict images including geometric designs, children of different races playing below green hillsides and a vineyard stretching toward the Sonoma Coast.

Another has a Mayan theme that includes a long serpent with a dragon head, and other designs show a rose whose petals morph into pink, yellow, blue and green running horses, and a montage that includes a bald eagle, flowers, a dream catcher and a creature that resembles a sea monster.

The submissions will be judged on artistic excellence and originality, the artist's experience with projects of a similar scope and scale, the artist's availability to participate in the design, approval and implementation of the project, and the feasibility of the project itself, said Georgia Pedgrift, the Police Department's graffiti abatement technician.

The city's Arts in Public Places Committee will give final review and approval to the winning entries in April.

Each of the two artists will receive $5,000 from the Gateway Redevelopment Project, a sum that includes the artist's fees and all expenses related to the mural project.

The artists begin their projects in April, and the murals will be unveiled in June.

The murals will be painted on panels that will be attached to the fences and they'll be protected by a graffiti-resistant coating, Pedgrift said.

"The goal of these murals is to create a sense of pride in the neighborhood's visual landscape and deter graffiti through the use of art," the city stated in the request for proposals.

The Aston Avenue area receives a large amount of traffic because it is close to the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, meaning the murals will be seen by thousands of motorists and pedestrians every year.

The South Park area was selected because it has been plagued by chronic gang graffiti. Santa Rosa police Sgt. Mike Lazzarini said there was a rash of it following a gang-related homicide on Jan. 8 at the Kawana Springs Elementary School.

"Gangs use vandalism to establish their territory over rival gangs," Lazzarini said.

The number of gang graffiti incidents in Santa Rosa increased from 200 in 2002 to 20,000 in 2005, according to police.

It's difficult to chart the specific number of incidents today because graffiti sprees are often classified as a single act of vandalism, Lazzarini said.

There is always the possibility that the murals themselves will be targeted for graffiti, Pedgrift and Lazzarini said.

Murals that have been have been painted in the Roseland area of southwest Santa Rosa, however, have not been damaged, Lazzarini said.

"There seems to be an underlying respect, although some 13- and 14-year-olds may tag them," Lazzarini said.

A Santa Rosa ordinance requires property owners and tenants to remove graffiti on their property within 72 hours.

City officials say removing graffiti within 24 hours and restoring the property to its pre-vandalism appearance reduces the chance it will be targeted again.

Carole Abi-Rached had notified Pedgrift about the graffiti in her neighborhood, and she is anxious for a mural to adorn her fence in June on the property she owns on Aston Avenue.

There has been a mural of the solar system in her neighborhood for more than three years, and it was graffiti-free until a few months ago.

Abi-Rached said she had been hoping one of the artists had chosen a biblical scene for his or her project.

She picked out her two favorite mural sketches from among the eight that were spread out on tables in a second-floor room of the Santa Rosa Police Department last Tuesday. She liked best the designs that showed the children playing and the vineyard stretching to the coast.

Abi-Rached said the Police Department's graffiti abatement technician has done wonders for the area.

"If it wasn't for Georgia, this neighborhood would be horrible," she said.

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