With an increase in graffiti on public property and escalating costs to remove it, San Mateo has moved toward outsourcing the job.
City staff had a company in mind, Hayward-based Graffiti Protective Coatings, Inc., to do the work when the item was on the City Council’s consent calendar Monday night.
Mayor David Lim, however, pulled the item for discussion because he learned one of the company’s former employees allegedly applied more than 100 graffiti tags in Burbank last year and then billed for removing them.
Burbank police eventually arrested the employee using Graffiti Protective Coatings’ own proprietary smartphone software.
The company’s owner Carla Lenhoff told the council at Monday night’s meeting that the former employee was a “bad apple” and that the company actually helped police nab him.
Lim opted to have the item continued to the next council meeting, however, so councilmembers can look at the other competitive bids before approving a contract for graffiti removal.
Lim also asked city staff at the meeting whether they were aware of the Burbank scandal and they said “no.”
The vote was 3-2, with councilmen Jack Matthews and Brandt Grotte voting against Lim’s request to continue the item. Both were in favor of awarding the contract to GPC Monday night.
Graffiti removal costs hit the $150,000 mark in fiscal year 2011-12 and currently San Mateo city workers are not able to paint over or remove graffiti at the same rate they did last year.
Graffiti Protective Coatings, Inc. offered the service for $96,000 a year for up to four years.
In FY 2011-12, city workers carried out about 1,100 graffiti removal work orders on city facilities and right-of-ways including roads, sidewalks and bridges but this year’s totals will eclipse that number, according to a staff report.
GPC offered to remove reported graffiti on city property throughout San Mateo starting July 1 within 48 hours of receiving the report and 24 hours in designated “hot spots” and for reported gang, hate crime and inflammatory graffiti.
GPC offered to also carry out proactive patrol to identify and remove unreported graffiti on city property.
In addition, GPC offered to provide a real-time web-based work order system for receiving, tracking and closing work orders that city staff can access in its proposal. The work orders were to include the location, date, response time, tag moniker and other information along with before and after photographs that can assist with enforcement efforts.
GPC also offered its mobile application tool for residents and city employees to use their mobile device to report graffiti and submit photos. Such reports will be submitted electronically into GPC’s work order system and the reporting party will automatically receive an electronic response with before and after photographs once the work has been completed, if the council ultimately approves the contract. GPC offered to also provide a link to this reporting tool on the city’s website and a toll-free call center with a 24-hour live operator for receiving graffiti reports, according to a staff report.
“Through this contract, the city will be able to provide a faster response to reported graffiti on city facilities and right-of-ways along with enhanced reporting capabilities such as a mobile device app. This contract will also enable city workers to focus on other pressing maintenance needs with the city’s infrastructure,” Matt Bronson, the city’s interim streets and facilities manager, wrote the Daily Journal in an email.
GPC intended to conduct a heightened removal effort from July to September to remove the current level of graffiti on city property across San Mateo and then shifting to an ongoing maintenance mode before Lim asked for more time to review all the proposals.
Based on this amount and the 1,100 work orders the city completed last fiscal year, GPC’s cost per work order is estimated at $87 compared with the $136 per work order that the city spent as part of its total costs of $150,000, according to a staff report.
Bronson told the council Monday night, however, the cost could come down even more per work order because the company would be able to respond to up to 1,500 work orders or more a year.
Lim said $87 sounded high compared to how much other cities pay GPC for graffiti removal per work order.
The city has made abatement a priority but covering up the graffiti is only a part of its effort to stop the crime. Police are now looking to catch the offenders in the act and punish them appropriately and a code enforcement effort is also underway to get private property owners to remove the graffiti.
Part of the problem, however, is that taggers and gangs will also mark up private property or utility boxes owned by Pacific Gas and Electric, AT&T, Comcast or other companies. The cloverleaf over Highway 101 at Third Avenue gets tagged and marked by gangs constantly but the cloverleaf is the property of Caltrans. The city has worked with Caltrans, which has also stepped up its effort to remove graffiti. The soundwalls along Highway 101 are also popular with taggers.
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