Downtown Cheyenne graffiti

A woman walks past graffiti in an alleyway off Carey Avenue on Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018, in downtown Cheyenne. The Cheyenne Police Department, Downtown Development Authority and the three Ward 1 City Council members hosted a public forum about property crime like graffiti Tuesday evening. Jacob Byk/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – The Cheyenne Downtown Development Authority wants to make significant changes to graffiti removal efforts downtown.

DDA staff joined Cheyenne Police Department representatives and a few members of City Council on Tuesday to present a possible two-year pilot program that would put the DDA in charge of downtown graffiti abatement.

The program would mimic a similar approach in Montrose, Colorado, where an ordinance allows the city to remove graffiti on private property if owners fail to do so within a certain time period.

Though the ordinance is still being drafted, property owners would be automatically enrolled in an agreement allowing the DDA, through a contractor, to remove graffiti within 48 hours.

Those enrolled would be given the option to opt-out, though.

Currently, property owners must give permission for removal through the local police’s paint-out abatement program.

But Vicki Dugger, DDA executive director, said it’s not enough.

“The DDA issued 38 graffiti abatement forms with paid return postage to property owners recently, and only four were returned,” she said.

She speculates it’s because many owners live out of town and do not make regular on-site visits.

Through the pilot program, the DDA would set aside earmarked funding for the next two fiscal years for removal services.

While expenses vary, the DDA expects an average cost of $50 per hour, but DDA board president Alane West said these figures are just estimates.

The ordinance would only cover the downtown district, leaving the police to continue tackling the rest of the city’s property crimes.

Police Capt. Nathan Buseck echoed Dugger, noting the department typically waits as long as a month before removing graffiti due to cost and limited volunteer resources.

“Our biggest frustration is we have actually gone to people’s businesses in uniform and said ‘we will cover this for you, all you have to do is sign this form,’” he said. “And we have still been told ‘no.’”

Buseck said he supports the idea of an ordinance that does not penalize property owners.

“It’s not punitive toward the people who do not participate,” he said.

Graffiti is considered criminal property destruction. In most cases where the damage is valued at less than $1,000, this is a misdemeanor.

 “We do have some felony taggers with repeated behaviors because the damage is over $1,000,” Buseck said.

Dugger said graffiti may stifle the DDA’s efforts to keep people downtown.

“It’s a very strong negative perception,” she said. “It says that nobody cares and the area is not safe. It’s also a magnet for more graffiti or litter.”

Mike Solis, general manager of the Plains Hotel, said the plan is encouraging.

“I think this is a really interesting approach to solve this problem,” he said.

Councilman Richard Johnson asked how the group plans to address the culture of graffiti, where perpetrators deliberately find ways to make their art as visible as possible.

“It’s going to be a lot cheaper to buy a can of spray paint than it is to do any kind of remediation,” he said. “I can tell you who is going to give up first.”

Those in attendance agreed something had to be done, even if the effort is not as successful as expected.

DDA business development specialist Esther Gonzales wrapped up the forum by clarifying the difference between graffiti and legally commissioned street art.

“We have the Design Committee, which is about the beautification of downtown,” she said. “Part of that addresses the murals, where we hire someone to create the art. We have done one behind the Paramount and the Plains Hotel. Those are beautiful and no one has messed with them.”

Anyone interested in reviewing a copy of the draft ordinance when it’s released can do so by contacting the DDA at 307-433-9730.

For more news from the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, visit https://www.wyomingnews.com/.

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