For Hough, Carter Park neighborhoods, the writing's on the wall

As West Vancouver neighborhoods face growing graffiti problem, neighbors say it will take more than police effort to reduce its toll

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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WHO TO CALL

Residents can report graffiti to Vancouver police at 360-487-7355 for tagging west of Andresen Road or 360-487-7500 east of Andresen Road. Reports can also be filed at Vancouver Police Department.

If there's graffiti in the Hough or Carter Park neighborhoods, chances are Marcia Maynard has spotted it. The West Vancouver resident says doesn't miss much on her way to work in downtown.

"When I'm driving down, I'm looking all the time," she said.

That's because Maynard has experienced the area's graffiti problem firsthand. The apartment units she and her husband own near Kauffman Avenue have been tagged several times in recent years, including one instance just a few months ago. Tenants also have found their cars hit with graffiti in the past.

It's a problem Maynard and other community members say is getting worse, not better. And the activity is more than petty vandalism, according to police. Much of it is likely gang-related, they say.

Police ask residents to document and report all graffiti before removing it or covering it up. Having specific information, particularly photos, helps authorities determine how a tagging fits in with various trends, said Vancouver Police Department spokeswoman Kim Kapp. Seeing it also helps officers determine whether it's gang-related, she said.

An officer might not always respond to vandalism or graffiti in person, but police always want to know about it, she said.

And tagging incidents are becoming much more common across the city, she added.

"We do a lot of analysis of crimes that occur citywide to see how they all connect," Kapp said.

Driving through the Hough and Carter Park neighborhoods on a recent afternoon, Maynard pointed out dozens of familiar spots she sees targeted frequently. They span the gamut: empty buildings, active businesses, utility boxes, fences, she said. Among the worst-hit areas is at Kauffman Avenue and West Fourth Plain Boulevard, including the Garonaire building at 2515 Kauffman Ave. There, vandals have also gotten onto the roof and tagged Waterfront Federal Credit Union next door.

At A-1 Performance Trans & Converters, owner Alan Bowdish has battled graffiti since the auto shop moved to its Kauffman Avenue location three years ago. He said he has painted over tagging multiple times — at $300 to $500 a pop, he added — and put up lights to deter vandals. So far, Bowdish said, nothing has worked to stop the vandals.

"They graffiti my building every time I turn around," Bowdish said. "I'm at the point at which I'm ready to scream."

Bowdish said he's considering putting a fence around part of his building, even installing video surveillance. As recently as last week, the large doors at the back of the A-1 building were covered with spray paint.

Maynard and her husband, Jim Fischer, purchased the eight-unit Apricot Court apartment complex in 2006. It was first tagged in 2009, she said, then again in May of this year. The fence of a neighboring property is still tagged with a three-letter symbol Maynard said she recognizes from other parts of the area.

"It frightens the tenants, and it frightens us, too," she said.

Maynard has been in regular contact with neighborhood police Officer Drue Russell, who has been responsive and helpful, she said. But Vancouver police don't have the resources to respond to every incident. Property owners are sometimes slow to clean up after vandals. Maynard, diligent in her own right, said she believes it will take more than a police effort to end the problem.

"My hope is that as a community and a city, that we can pull together and focus some attention on reducing the damage — both the emotional and physical damage — that this causes," she said. "It's going to take a community effort."

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541; http://twitter.com/col_enviro;eric.florip@columbian.com.