Stacey Allesandro didn’t hesitate to complain when she spotted a 4-foot-long penis spray-painted onto a wooden fence near a children’s day care center in Kenner. She got in touch with members of the City Council and demanded it be erased.
Trouble is, there wasn’t much officials could do. They discovered the city had no right to go on private property and paint over the offending graffiti. Nor did any ordinance require that property owners remove offensive images themselves.
Now, thanks to Allesandro, that could change. The Kenner City Council on Thursday is set to vote on a measure that would penalize residents or business owners who fail to remove graffiti from their property within 30 days after being asked to do so.
“It was a genuine concern,” said Councilman Keith Conley, one of the proposal’s co-sponsors. “Who would want to drop their kids off at a day care with graffiti such as that around it?”
Allesandro, 47, was headed to work in early May when she noticed the spray-painting. It was visible through a chain-link fence surrounding the playground of a day care center on 36th Street. At the back of an adjacent car wash were two smaller spray-paintings depicting the same image.
“I’m old-fashioned,” Allesandro said. “I think children need to be shielded from that stuff.”
Allesandro got in touch with various officials, including Conley, Councilman Keith Reynaud and Assistant Code Enforcement Department Director Rick Walther. They all had similar responses: Defacing someone’s property with graffiti is a crime, but whoever produced the phallic drawings had already gotten away with it.
All they could do was hope the owners of the fence and neighboring car wash removed the graffiti promptly, though there was no law compelling them to do so.
The spray-paintings did come down in less than a week, but city officials were not pleased with the lack of an enforcement mechanism.
Conley and Reynaud spent the next several weeks working with the Kenner City Attorney’s Office to rewrite the regulations addressing graffiti on public and private land.
If approved, the resulting ordinance would place the onus of removing graffiti on private homes and businesses on their owners. If served with a notice from the city, owners would have 30 days to comply or ask for an extension. Otherwise, they could be fined.
Code Enforcement Director Aimee Vallot said officials realize vandalized private property owners are crime victims. But she said someone needs to shoulder the responsibility for graffiti removal, and it’s not feasible to put the burden on the six municipal employees tasked with identifying property code violations and responding to complaints across the entire city.
She added that her department would remain in charge of handling issues on public property, such as the since-removed bra that was recently hung from a “Welcome to Kenner” sign.
Conley doesn’t expect much, if any, opposition to his and Reynaud’s proposal, but he said their anti-graffiti efforts won’t end Thursday.
To help private property owners who need it, officials are preparing a measure that would require people convicted of certain crimes to remove graffiti from homes and businesses as community service, Conley said.