Graffiti incidents are on the rise in Santa Rosa. A new city program is tackling the issue

The code officer will help educate residents on the rules and requirements under city code, the importance of clearing away vandalism as quickly as possible and how to prevent or deter future incidents.

The staffer also will take photos and document graffiti incidents and that information will be shared with the police department, which will separately address any criminal charges connected with the vandalism.

A part-time community outreach specialist will help property owners connect with resources, such as civic organizations, volunteer groups or others in the community who can help provide people or equipment to remove the graffiti, if needed.

The City Council in late September approved allocating $285,200 to hire the two positions who will comprise the team for 18 months. The program will sunset at the end of the trial period unless dedicated funding is secured.

Additional program details are still being hammered out as the city recruits for the two position but Kirk hopes to launch the program by the end of the year or as soon as the positions are filled.

There is no funding built into the program for the city to provide direct assistance to residents though staff indicated that’s something the city can explore in the future if the program is successful.

Property owners who aren’t compliant or refuse to cooperate with the city in addressing graffiti could face citations and fees range from $100 for the first infraction up to $500 for three or more incidents, though Kirk said that is a last resort.

Kirk said while most graffiti is removed without the city needing to take enforcement action, officials understand some residents may not have the ability to address it quickly. Graffiti must be removed within 72 hours under city code but Kirk said code enforcement officers won’t unnecessarily punish residents if efforts are being made to take care of it.

“One of the early goals of the program is to ensure that we don’t penalize or victimize someone twice, first by them being tagged and then with an aggressive enforcement action being pursued,” he said. “Our goal is not to have to cite if at all possible.”

Rise in graffiti incidents

Code enforcement officers responded to 57 complaints of graffiti on private property as of end of September, though the number of incidents is likely higher as some graffiti is cleaned before it’s reported, Kirk said.

Mendocino Avenue was one of the areas hardest hit making up about a third of those complaints, he said.

The number of overall complaints has climbed over the past two years but is about on par with what the department saw in 2020.

The team responded to 53 complaints in 2020, 12 in 2021 and 31 in 2022, Kirk said.

Kirk said graffiti ranges in size and style and the team sees everything from gang signs to what some may perceive as art.

Kirk said vacant properties often are the most susceptible but can also be the most challenging to address because there isn’t someone there keeping tabs on the property. Sometimes property owners live out of town and aren’t available to address it.

Properties along the Sonoma-Marin Area Rapid Transit line also are frequently tagged but accessing the area for cleanup requires a costly permit. The city is discussing this with SMART officials, he said.

Santa Rosa’s street maintenance crew, which handles graffiti removal on public property outside of the downtown, has removed about 14,000 tags between January 2022 and the end of September 2023.

Maintenance workers downtown have also seen an increase in graffiti this year.

Matt Allen, co-owner and chief operating officer of NexStreet, a Bay Area firm that contracts with the Downtown Action Organization to provide maintenance services in the city’s core, including graffiti abatement, said his team removes more than 50 tags weekly.

The team, which has been working downtown for just over a year, has seen an uptick in graffiti cases since the start of the summer in Santa Rosa and in other communities where they work, he said. The downtown organization supports the work through a special financing district with fees paid by property owners going toward maintenance, landscaping, event management and promotion of the district.

Much of the vandalism is on abandoned buildings, in windows and doorways and scrawled on the concrete, Allen said. The team pressure washes the graffiti when possible, which is most effective, or wipes it down with a special graffiti solution before painting over it but sometimes a quick coat of paint is the fastest way to tackle the problem.

And Allen said addressing it as soon as possible is critical to preventing it from becoming a chronic issue.

“In a taggers mind the longer it’s up the more gratification they get,” he said. “They’re spending money on paint and if you’re cleaning it up it’s like they’re losing money so eventually they move on.”

Pennington and Crippen said they hope the new program helps identify problem areas quicker and helps residents more effectively address graffiti.

In the absence of a dedicated city team monitoring for graffiti on private property, the responsibility has largely fallen to residents. About 250 complaints for vandalism and graffiti have been lodged by residents across the city since the start of the year through mid-October, a search of the MySantaRosa portal showed.

Graffiti on city property is typically removed within 48 hours but the city is less responsive enforcing cleanup when it’s private property, Pennington said, pointing to a warehouse down the street from her property.

The building, which sits against the railroad tracks across from the new Pullman Lofts is a frequent target of vandals but the graffiti isn’t quickly removed despite reports to the city, she said.

The two community members said they hope residents become more aware of the rules with this new effort and can connect with resources to take care of the problem.

Crippen said during widespread incidents like the recent spree in her neighborhood the city could help organize neighborhood-wide cleanups or tap into its volunteer network to pitch in.

That could go a long way toward beautifying the city and making people feel safe, she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Paulina Pineda at 707-521-5268 or On Twitter @paulinapineda22.

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