Jim Porter: Graffiti is not my thing

Jim Porter

I have never been a big fan of vandalism, even when it’s called graffiti. I know, one man’s art is another man’s graffiti, but I still don’t get it.

Graffiti is lame

I’m the last guy to opine on graffiti, but it seems to me it falls into two categories. One is the somewhat innocent, certainly naive and stupid, spray painting of “Jim loves Marianne” on a wall or granite boulder near a highway. Harmless in a way, but how would that midnight author like it if I wrote “Jim loves Marianne” on his front door, assuming he owns a front door.

Another category of graffiti is less happenstance and more deliberate. That is where a gang or club puts its insignia on trains, fences and buildings — I guess to document they control the territory.

But of course they don’t. It just causes someone else in another club or gang to put their colors on a fence or building on the other side of town. Tagging. Do I get in trouble if I suggest that tagging in the middle of the night, under the cover of darkness, does not show power or control but suggests cowardice? Obviously, I don’t get it.

“Rob 1965”

Many years ago when my brother Rob was in grammar school, we moved to a new neighborhood and within five minutes he had spray-painted “Rob 1965” in large letters on a prominent rock. It could be seen by everyone. He was excited I guess.

Poor Rob spent the next two days scouring and wire-brushing that rock in the heat of the summer, and yet, even today you can still see “Rob 1965” in faded letters. I smile whenever I see it.

Graffiti Case

That diatribe is a prelude to a discussion of People v. Luis M., a minor.

Young Luis vandalized walls, signs and metal boxes on private property and on buildings owned by the City of Lancaster. He pled guilty and was put on probation for 12 to 36 months, and appealed.

He was ordered to pay $3,881.80 restitution for the six different vandalized locations. State law allows a restitution award “sufficient to fully reimburse the victim for losses incurred as the result of the minor’s conduct.”

Restitution for Graffiti

Lancaster had a more inclusive formula for determining how a minor should make restitution to the victim of graffiti which essentially averaged the total cost of cleaning up all of the graffiti in Lancaster in a given year divided by the number of incidents.

And the formula added in the City’s city-wide administrative and law enforcement costs associated with graffiti abatement, i.e. more than just the cost to clean up Luis’ graffiti.

City Tagged

The Court of Appeal threw out Lancaster’s formula, ruling Luis would only have to pay the “actual cost” of his graffiti clean up.

I suspect the Legislature will respond to this case with new codes broadening restitution recovery for minors’ graffiti.

Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California, and Reno, Nevada. He was the Governor’s appointee to the California Fair Political Practices Commission and McPherson Commission, both involving election law and the Political Reform Act. Jim’s practice areas include: real estate, development, construction, business, HOAs, contracts, foreclosures, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at or at the firm’s website

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