Council to examine graffiti law

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County code > Change targets both perpetrators and property owners

By Arin McKenna

In a step that may herald a more activist posture to enhance the town’s appearance, the Los Alamos County Council is set to mull enacting a new law aimed at curbing graffiti.

An amendment to Los Alamos County Code Ordinance No. 02-230 that would prohibit graffiti vandalism and promote its eradication within the county is on the council’s Tuesday meeting agenda.

Council asked County Attorney Rebecca Ehler to draft the ordinance after a citizen drew council’s attention to the growing perception that graffiti vandalism is increasing within the county and that the current county code does not specifically address the issue.

Assistant County Attorney Kathryn Thwaits, who drafted the proposed amendment, said that graffiti ordinances are common both in New Mexico and throughout the United States. Thwaits drafted the proposed amendment to be consistent with both New Mexico State statutes and ordinances in other New Mexico municipalities.

After defining the offense, the amendment reads:

“Whoever commits graffiti vandalism when the damage to the property is $1,000 or less is guilty of a petty misdemeanor and shall be required to perform a mandatory 100 hours of community service within a continuous six-month period immediately following the conviction and shall be required to make restitution to the property owner for the cost of damages and restoration.”

Damages above $1,000 fall under New Mexico State statute sect. 30-15-1.1 and are a fourth degree felony.

Property owners will also be held responsible for keeping their premises free of graffiti. If the vandalism is visible from county-owned property or the public right-of-way, the county will notify the owner, occupant or agent that the graffiti must be removed within 30 days of the date that notice is served.

After receiving notice, the responsible party has 10 days to notify the county of the date by which the graffiti will be removed or to declare that the markings were authorized by the property’s owner and do not constitute graffiti vandalism.

If the owner, occupant or agent does not respond to the notice, the ordinance authorizes the county to enter the property to remove the graffiti. The county may also prosecute the offense as a petty misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of no more than $500 and/or up to 90 days in jail.

If council approves the ordinance, it will go into effect 30 days after notice is published.

Council meets to consider the ordinance at 7 p.m. March 26 in council chambers.

Council will also decide whether to hold one of its regular meetings on Friday during the day in alternating months and on locating the Teen Center at the community building.