Growing graffiti problem dims Seattle's holiday sparkle

SEATTLE - It's not the image that the city wants to leave with tourists this holiday season. But sadly, more and more, their first and last impression of Seattle is an eyesore - graffiti scrawled and sprayed on buildings, bridges, tunnels, signs .... virtually any flat surface.

The graffiti has become an increasingly common sight as you enter the city - detracting from Seattle's holiday sparkle.

It's all over some of the city's main entrances - like the Mercer Street exit - on the way to some of the most popular attractions. And too much graffiti can send the wrong message.

Visitors to Seattle equate graffiti with crime, tarnishing the city's image.

"Hmmm - that might not be the safest place to bring to bring my family," says Seattle Center visitor Marty Fulford.

Seattle is covered in so much graffiti that Brandon Wright of Green Lake Pressure Washing makes his entire living just roving from place to place, cleaning up after taggers.

"They're having tag wars. ... Some of them I've removed a few dozen times," he says. "I do feel like I know them. I know their signatures, their styles.

Wright says he can read the story behind the tags.

"These guys came in - a couple guys came through in a couple of sessions. There's one you can see - they came in as a team," he says.

Internet research appears to confirm that the graffiti is not so much the work of street gangs, marking their territory. But rather it is created by specialized tagging gangs making Seattle their canvas in a competition.

"They want to get up high, in hard-to-reach places," says Wright.

Statistics show the city has spent literally millions of dollars removing graffiti over the years. A city poll revealed that nearly half of Seattleites think graffiti is a problem. There's a law on the books requiring private property owners to remove it.

The city has encouraged graffiti artists to contribute to murals, hoping that would stop the problem. And many people compare those murals to works of art.

But that hasn't stopped other taggers from attacking buildings, tunnels and bridges all over the city.

"Ninety-five percent of this stuff you see here is not art," says Wright.

At this time of year, when the city wants to shine and look its best, graffiti is one of the last images tourists take with them when they leave.

"It's not a positive impression of the city that it gives," says Wright.

And almost as soon as the graffiti is covered with fresh paint, the taggers are back - striking again.