While raising children is expensive, Teresa Batancourt of Lake Forest never factored paying $18,000 for her son’s mischievious deed. Betancourt is the second parent out of Lake Forest to be slapped with a substantial penalty in connection with gang-related graffiti. The Sheriff’s Department has accused Betancourt’s son of tagging more than a dozen spots in town with gang-related graffiti.
In 2011, Lake Forest city officials passed an ordinance to make it easier to recover cost spent in an effort to cleanup graffiti. This past Novermeber, a Superior Court judge ordered Betancourt to pay more than $18,200. Currently, her son is accused of tagging on residential and business walls, stop signs, utility boxes, poles and a tree. It is significant to note that during the full calendar year after the law was enacted, the overall cost related to graffiti cleanup dropped by roughly half, according to the city records. “I think there’s a very strong connection between the city’s action and the deterrent effect,” said Matt Silver, an attorney representing the city. “I think there is a correlation between the city’s strong stance against graffiti and the reduction we’re seeing.”
Currently, the city sends letters to the taggers demaning restitution. If those letters are ignored lawsuits are initiated, Silver said. Since 2011, when the ordinance was passed, a total of eight letters have been mailed and out of those five have settled. The Betancourt judgement is the second that the city has won since the new ordinance was enacted. In October 2012, Maria Gutierrez was fined $15,000 for her son’s tagging. Police said that her son tagged a total of 23 times in the city, on utility poles, walls, and fences. In another graffiti case the city is seeking $15,498. While no money has been collected from both judgements, Silver said, that the city’s ordinance allows for the collection of fees through the parent or teen’s salaries, as well as any property assets for 10 years.
Below are the annual Lake Forest graffiti cleanup costs.
Annual Lake Forest graffiti cleanup costs
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Tagging is a form of vandalism, which is prohibited by Penal Code section 594. Related code sections are Penal Code section 594.1 which prohibit the possession of aerosol paint cans by minors and Penal Code section 594.2 which prohibits the possession of graffiti-related tools by adults or minors. For more information about tagging, including possible penalties, click here.