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How high-rise graffiti put a spotlight on rampant vandalism in Boyle Heights

Graffiti at abandoned high-rises spotlights vandalism issues
Graffiti at abandoned high-rises spotlights vandalism issues 02:22

Scraping, scrubbing and painting over graffiti; it's a scene that plays out dozens of times a day in Boyle Heights. 

"I just think it really devalues the property, the community, the businesses here. It's not fair," resident Felipe Garcia said.

In recent weeks, the issue of graffiti has been spotlighted because of the abandoned high-rises that have been tagged up in Downtown Los Angeles. 

Researchers from Crosstown LA at USC discovered that Garcia's neighborhood, Boyle Heights, had the most graffiti reports of any area in the city last year. It was followed by downtown, Westlake District, Historic South Central and East Hollywood. This year, the mayor has earmarked more than $15 million to graffiti abatement. 

The LA Office of Community Beautification contracted the nonprofit Gang Alternative Program to do the cleanup work. Councilman Kevin de León called the issue a life-and-death problem. He believes painting over graffiti is really about minimizing conflicts between rival gangs. 

"Those fires are already in existence. We're trying to extinguish those fires," he said. 

Dr. Eric Avia, an expert in the history of 20th Century Los Angeles, claims the outrage over the skyscraper graffiti has to do with classism. 

"It's a way for often-marginal communities to express themselves," Avila said. "That's not necessarily to defend the work of he graffiti artist. Some of it I find really spectacular, other not so much."

Garcia, a former tagger who went to jail, said he would like to see investments in creative outlets. 

"I think resources in the community like art studios stuff like that," he said. "It's not worth it. I have kids now. I don't want to give them that example to think it's ok to come and write on a wall. Who's going to pay for that? Taxpayers?"

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