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Graffiti removal slower in Chicago after budget cuts

Graffiti buildings around Blue Line near Damen Station. Thursday August 16 2012 | Brian Jackson~Sun Times

Graffiti on buildings around the Blue Line near the Damen Station. Thursday, August 16, 2012 | Brian Jackson~Sun Times

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fewer cleanups

City Hall’s battle on graffiti has been hit with budget cuts, meaning illegal artwork by spray-paint artists and gangbangers marking their turf isn’t removed as quickly as before.

Completed graffiti
removal requests

2008 172,197

2009 172,989

2010 161,336

2011 137,459

2012* 64,000

* through July 30

Source: Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation

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Updated: September 24, 2012 6:41AM

When it comes to removing graffiti, Mayor Richard M. Daley was quicker on the draw than Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

City Hall’s budget cuts have hit the graffiti-removal program, eliminating nearly a third of the workers who scoured Chicago to clean public and private property spray painted by gang-bangers and taggers marking their turf.

And business owners have taken notice.

“It’s absolutely horrible,” says Arnie Wulfstat, who’s been waiting nearly two weeks for the city to remove the graffiti someone painted on the side of his building at 1259 N. Milwaukee.

“I’ve called the city,” he says. “They used to come out within a week. Instead of cutting back, they should add to it.”

City Hall acknowledges that it doesn’t remove graffiti as quickly as it once did — largely because of budget cuts Emanuel has made to erase a $600 million deficit.

The “graffiti blasters” program — one of Daley’s pet projects to beautify Chicago by providing free graffiti removal to homeowners and businesses — has been cut 25 percent this year, down to $4.1 million. It has 49 employees, 23 fewer than last year.

And they no longer work on a first-come, first-served basis.

For the past six months, the graffiti blasters have been blitzing four of the 50 wards each day — but only four days a week during the summer, says Anne Sheahan, spokeswoman for the Department of Streets and Sanitation. It means some neighborhoods wait as long as three weeks for the city to cover up graffiti with brown paint or blast it off with a pressure wash of baking soda.

“This way is more efficient,” Sheahan says. “We’re able to knock out most of the graffiti in a ward in one day.”

But records show the city will likely remove less graffiti this year.

City Hall says it removed about 64,000 instances of graffiti during the first seven months of the year. Throughout all of 2011, the city removed 137,459 instances of graffiti, according to data the city provided under an open records request the Chicago Sun-Times submitted on July 20.

On Aug. 7, Emanuel issued a press statement touting his revised program: “By taking a more strategic approach to removing graffiti, we are able to complete more work in a day and make smarter use of our resources to keep our communities clean and safe.”

The cutbacks are frustrating for businesses in Wicker Park, where graffiti returns as quickly as the city removes it. And it stays on the walls a lot longer.

“It’s not as quick as it used to be,” says Dipesh Kakshapaty, manager of Cumin restaurant at 1414 N. Milwaukee. “Before when I called, it would be a couple of days. . . . I called the city last week. I’m hoping they’ll come out this week or next week.”

When the city crews do return, Sheahan says it will be the sixth time they have removed graffiti from the restaurant’s walls this year.

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