Washougal leaders say ‘costly, destructive’ graffiti getting worse

City officials may ask volunteers to help report, alleviate growing graffiti problem

Graffiti is painted on a water fountain in the city of Washougal in 2022. City leaders say graffiti incidents have tripled over past three years.

Graffiti is scrawled on the city of Washougal's Hathaway Park Boat Launch sign.

Graffiti is painted on a wall in Washougal. Graffiti is becoming a common problem in the city. Now, Washougal officials say they may ask volunteers to help report, clean graffiti.

Contributed photo courtesy city of Washougal During the past three years, the city of Washougal has repainted park restrooms with anti-graffiti paint and installed new park signs with anti-graffiti coating. "This has made removing graffiti removal a little easier, but some graffiti is impossible to remove," according to Michelle Wright, the city's public works business administrator.

Washougal leaders say the city’s graffiti problem seems to be getting worse.

Graffiti in Washougal has almost tripled in the last three years, according to Michelle Wright, the city’s public works business administrator.

“The city doesn’t exactly know why graffiti has increased,” Wright said. “This increase has happened during COVID, so that might be one of the causes of the increase.”

“Graffiti is costly, destructive, lowers property values and impacts the appearance of the community,” Wright added. “It keeps us from moving forward as a community because we continue to use our limited resources to try and keep the city clean. It is a shame that there are individuals who participate in this sort of vandalism, defacing our community and adding extra work for city crews and private property owners.”

Trevor Evers, the city’s public works director, said during a June 27 Washougal City Council workshop that graffiti has “spiraled out of control the last couple of months.”

“We’re trying to be as highly responsive as possible,” Evers said. “We try to get to it with immediacy, especially with how offensive it is — it needs to get removed immediately, depending on what’s spray-painted. Ones that are lower priority, if you will, we get to those when we can.”

Graffiti is appearing on signs, buildings, sidewalks, parks, tunnels, bridges and public restrooms, according to Wright, who added that the city has covered park restrooms with anti-graffiti paint and installed new parks signs with anti-graffiti coating during the past three years.

“This has made graffiti removal a little easier, but some graffiti is impossible to remove,” she said. “The park board has been looking at installing murals to help prevent graffiti. Some studies show murals are an effective way of preventing graffiti, but this isn’t 100% effective.”

The city may soon reach out to residents for help conquering the graffiti problem.

“I’ve talked with Michelle about working with the Adopt-a-Park (volunteers) and others,” Evers said. “We could potentially leverage them to help out with that tagging and vandalism, especially since it’s really just (takes) manual labor to remove it. There’s not a technique or a science, depending on the type of surface it’s sprayed on.”

Mayor Rochelle Ramos agreed with Evers, and said Preached out to Wright and Washougal City Manager David Scott earlier this summer to see if the city’s Parks Board might be able to pull together a volunteer graffiti-removal program.

“I know there’s a lot of citizens who are tired of seeing it that will step up. They just need the training and the authority to do so. I have kids on the lookout for graffiti,” Ramos said.

Washougal’s municipal code states that all sidewalks, walls, buildings, fences, signs, and their structures or surfaces shall be kept free from graffiti when graffiti is visible from a street or other public or private property, and the allowing of graffiti to remain “is declared to be a public nuisance.”

Violators of the city’s public nuisance provision “shall be guilty of a civil infraction,” according to the code.

“We do have a provision specifying that if someone is caught defacing our streets, sidewalks and bridges, including their appurtenances, that they are responsible for the cost of clean-up,” Scott told the Post-Record. “We do not have any provisions regarding restrictions on the sale of spray paint or a requirement that someone clean up graffiti.”

The city isn’t the only Washougal government entity dealing with graffiti, Evers said.

“We’ve been working with the school district as well,” Evers said. “They’ve been experiencing some tagging at Gause Elementary School as well as the high school. With school out, we’re trying to stay ahead of that.”

Washougal officials encourage local residents who have information about graffiti activity or vandalism to call 311 and fill out a form online at cityofwashougal.us/170/Report-a-Concern.

“It’s nice to hear that the city is so proactive about it with the limited amount of personnel that it has (to put) toward this,” Washougal City Councilmember Michelle Wagner said.