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Residents of the College Point area, tired of seeing graffiti everywhere they turn in their small community, have formed a task force to deal with the illegal spray-painting problem.
The group's initial meeting was held Monday at the College Point Board of Trade office. Members met with representatives from the borough president's, state Sen. Frank Padavan's (R-Bellerose) and City Councilman Mike Abel's (R-Whitestone) offices to discuss existing anti-graffiti laws and how College Point should deal with the vandalism.
The trade board has combatted graffiti for years by funding the voluntary cleaning efforts of resident Leo Nicholas, but trade board President Fred Mazzarello said it is not enough.
Mazzarello opened the meeting by reading a summary of a graffiti hearing convened by Padavan in 1991.
Padavan found Community Board 7, including College Point, had a major graffiti problem and the city was not doing enough to enforce existing graffiti laws. Current laws call for up to $500 in fines and/or up to three months' imprisonment for violators. The mayor can also offer a reward leading to the arrest and conviction of graffiti artists.
"In 1991 it was a serious problem," Mazzarello said. "Today I think it's worse."
Last year Mazzarello and College Point civic leader Sabina Cardali attended a court hearing for a local graffiti artist, nicknamed "Shorty 140."
The pair said they were disgusted when Shorty received one year's probation from the judge "after he ruined so much stuff."
Many at Monday's meeting agreed that the courts were too lenient and also said local police precincts were not aggressive enough in investigating graffiti.
Their anger was fueled when they learned the representative from the 109th Police Precinct did not make the meeting.
"The fact the Police Department isn't here is very disturbing," said Dan Bersa from McDonald's Restaurant.
Suzie Metaxes, director of a local senior center, said graffiti artists should pay for the cleanup and perform community service. If young perpetrators cannot afford the penalty, their parents should be held accountable, she said.
Matching the mayor's reward was also suggested.
Mazzarello said businesses are often too slow in removing graffiti, and one spray-painted area soon spreads like a cancer.
Jay Bond, a community board liaison for the borough president, said that office offers free graffiti removal as an incentive to property owners to clean up as quickly as possible.
He also said six rapid-response, graffiti-free zones were established last spring in Jamaica, Flushing, Corona, Forest Hills/Rego Park, Queens Village and Far Rockaway, based on complaints received and community input. Property owners within the zones who sign liability waivers receive free graffiti removal.
Bond said cleaning has only been done in two of the zones because not all property owners have turned in their liability waivers, and the program and zones will be re-evaluated this spring. He suggested property owners in College Point push for a zone in their area.
The lack of activities in town for youth was also a factor many said contributed to the graffiti problem.
Martha Flores-Vazquez, a city council candidate for Julia Harrison's (D-Flushing ) seat, was not at the trade board's meeting, but she has some anti-graffiti proposals of her own.
Vazquez has proposed building a community resource center in the area and one of its goals would be graffiti intervention.
Vazquez said arresting and fining graffiti artists is a short-term solution.
"Long term is to deal with this issue and channel what they're doing into something positive," Vazquez said.
She said one example was a program in the Bronx that takes graffiti artists and trains them in graphic arts. Participants are then hired to paint decorative murals.
A similar creative approach is taken in Long Island City, where managers of the Phun Phactory provide space for graffiti artists to paint and officially display their work as in a museum.
©2000 Community Newspaper Group
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