Seattle business owners fed up with graffiti clean-up fines

SEATTLE -- Aurora Avenue's ongoing graffiti problem is irking business owners for a reason people might not expect. As much as merchants hate the tagging -- they dislike the fines the city threatens even more.

No matter how many coats of paint he puts up, Michael Williams said the taggers keep coming back.

"I've already cleaned up the graffiti twice now since I've been here," Williams said as he used a roller brush to cover up seven-foot high markings. "It takes them two days and they're already back slapping it back up."

Michael Williams works for BMI, a hotel management company, but had to put his job on hold.

"I had to stop my work to come over here and do this," he said. "It's just ridiculous."

What upsets some business owners more than the taggers is the $100 a day fines the city in fines if the graffiti isn't cleaned up.

"You can fine every business owner all you want, but they are not the ones out there causing the problem," said Tim Ley, who owns Seattle Natural Mattress on Aurora.

Ley estimated the back of his store got tagged 30 or 40 times last year. He tries to do the responsible thing and paint it over, but feels city workers and police offer little help, even in neighborhoods where there's an almost nightly pattern.

"Why not post an unmarked car across the street from midnight to 2 a.m., while (the officer is) waiting on other calls that are necessary, and catch one of these guys," Ley said.

Commercial property owner Faye Garneau isn't sure the problem is with law enforcement.

"The police can't be everywhere at night," she said.

Garneau checks her 17 commercial property locations every Monday looking for fresh graffiti. However, when the city sent her a letter last month saying she needed to clean up a tagged property, her blood boiled because she knew the site was clean.

"They don't go out to verify that it's right, and I find that extremely offensive," she said.

Garneau says she's the victim, but she faces the fines. It's a common complaint among many of Seattle's merchants.

"They want to charge us instead of charging the criminals," Williams said.

Seattle police say fighting graffiti is a constant chase. They point out that if they sit in front of one business, taggers simply go somewhere else. Police say the key is for the public to keep reporting the problem.