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Park graffiti spurs Council to get tough; Ban on sale of spray paint to minors and fines for parents urged

A ban on the sale of spray paint and other graffiti tools to minors.

Fines of up to $250 against the parents of kids caught drawing graffiti.

Those are among the changes that city lawmakers are considering after last month's widespread vandalism at Buffalo's Olmsted parks.

"It's equal to giving the finger to a neighborhood," Common Council Member Michael J. LoCurto of the Delaware District, sponsor of the anti-graffiti measure, said of the vandalism.

LoCurto was joined by other Council members Tuesday in asking city attorneys to draft such a law.

Buffalo's latest attempt at curbing graffiti comes a month after vandals caused thousands of dollars in damage at several Olmsted parks. The damage included graffiti on the Marcy Casino and Ivy Bridge in Delaware Park.

While most of those vandals are believed to be in their 20s and 30s, LoCurto said, the new law would nevertheless be effective in reducing the number of underage "taggers" causing damage across the city.

"It's absolutely a step in the right direction," said Sam Lunetta, chairman of the Regional Anti-Graffiti Task Force of Buffalo & Erie County.

Olmsted parks officials also endorsed the measure and pointed to the recent arrest of a tagger caught defacing the William McMillan Monument in Delaware Park.

A local judge sentenced the young man to 350 hours of community service, which he will spend removing graffiti in Olmsted parks.

"It's poetic justice," said Thomas Herrera-Mishler, president of the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy. "My guess is he'll never do it again."

The anti-graffiti proposal, modeled after a new law in Niagara Falls, would stop short of requiring jail time for violators, but Lunetta is quick to note that jail time is already being used against serial taggers.

He pointed to the case of Ian Debeer, a North Buffalo native, who was sentenced in Pittsburgh last year to one to three years in prison after causing an estimated $212,000 in damage to 100 buildings.

Debeer, who was previously arrested in Buffalo, used the graffiti tag "HERT," a tribute to his one-time home on Hertel Avenue.

"It's great to have a new law on the books, but what about enforcement?" asked Lunetta. "Who's going to be the spray paint police?"

In short, he wonders how the city would enforce its potential ban on selling spray paint, broad-tipped markers, etching acids and other graffiti tools to minors.

Nevertheless, he thinks it's a positive step toward teaching kids that graffiti is not art unless the property owner consents.

In other action Tuesday, the Council:

Asked the city Law Department to draft legislation that would again make the Council president an elected citywide position. The measure also would reduce the number of district seats on the Council from nine to eight, starting in 2015.

Renamed the playground at Mulroy Park in South Buffalo in honor of the late George Herrmann, a playground director, coach and "surrogate father" to generations of kids.

e-mail: pfairbanks@buffnews.com