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Letters for the Week of December 5, 2012

Readers sound off on graffiti, Barack Obama, and Measure T.

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"Going After Graffiti," News, 11/21

Beyond Broken Windows

Thanks for quoting me, but there's a lot of nuance and context that was omitted from the quotes included in the article. First off, the author failed to mention that Community Rejuvenation Project has partnered with the cities of Richmond and Oakland on numerous public art projects. We also work with community partners such as Urban Tilth, People's Grocery, RJOY, Unity High School, ARISE High School, and many others on comprehensive youth development/education programs centered around public murals, which often feature a sustainable environmental health component and/or positive messages that uphold cultural identity. More information about our past and current projects can be found on our website, CRPBayArea.org.

While we recognize that illegal tagging is a problem, and that graffiti is a "hot button" issue that makes it easy for people to point fingers at kids, a punitive anti-graffiti measure that largely duplicates laws already on the books runs the risk of skewing public perception against legal/sanctioned public art projects. I mentioned this to the author during a lengthy phone interview, but for some reason, he didn't see fit to include this comment in the article.

From an organizational standpoint, we'd like to see policy created that looks beyond the "broken windows" theory and adopts a progressive, forward-thinking approach to blight reduction and abatement strategy. Specifically, we believe that public art, namely a mural program, should be a part of these efforts. There are many reasons for this: For one, it's more cost-effective than current strategies, and for another, unlike a purely punitive approach to graffiti offenders, a public mural program can be part of a holistic approach that also furthers youth development, antiviolence, environmental awareness, and promotes healthy lifestyles and positive cultural identity.

It took us several months just to get a meeting with department heads to discuss the notion of a public art program that addresses all these issues. It would be unfortunate indeed if those efforts were overshadowed by a flawed ordinance whose ultimate impact could be the increased criminalization of youth, which doesn't address the underlying causes of tagging, and which makes little to no attempt at diverting graffiti offenders into legal, more positive areas of artistic expression.

The other thing the article fails to mention is that the proposed ordinance contains vague references to "restorative" efforts. In fact, while the city has contracted out to Community Works for its restorative juvenile diversion programs, that organization has no experience working with graffiti offenders, and doesn't offer an art component to its programs. Therefore, it seems like the mention of a restorative component is an afterthought at best.

That's a shame, because a true attempt at restorative justice should offer sincere alternatives to strictly punitive measures, such as education and training in art skills, which can actually lead to a career path for youths and allow them to develop their artistic expression beyond simple tagging. Perhaps an author better-versed in the complexities of this topic would have done a better job of explaining those nuances.

I'd also have to question why the author quoted an obviously biased anti-graffiti official in Los Angeles, rather than giving examples of murals right here in Oakland, such as CRP's "Peace and Dignity" mural at 41st Aveune and International Boulevard or the numerous pieces CRP has done in West Oakland, such as the People's Grocery headquarters at 7th and Market streets, which have been embraced by the community and have resisted tagging efforts.

Sadly, I was never given an opportunity to counter Racs' assertion. The implication that artistic murals are somehow more attractive to taggers than blank walls is both erroneous and troublesome. The author also apparently didn't bother to reach out to CRP founder Desi WOME or any of the other Oakland-based muralists who have done large-scale public projects I suggested he contact, who could have qualified Racs' comments and given an Oakland-specific answer to this question. Instead, the reader is left with the dubious implication that as goes Los Angeles, so goes Oakland, which is obviously far from true in all cases.

Eric Arnold, director of communications, CRP


"Pat Your Neighbor on the Back," Raising the Bar, 11/21

What's Next?

Thanks for pausing to reflect on these important victories, Jay. It is easy to be so focused on staving off the next wave of attempts to deprive Americans of decent living standards that we forget to recognize our successes. Now we need to make sure that the constituencies you listed hold the president accountable for his actions. The election is over, and "the other guy is so much more awful" is no longer a reason to accept mediocrity.

Lisa Lindsley, Washington, DC


"The Climate Takes a Hit," Seven Days, 11/21

A Cry for Help

Robert Gammon's election wrap is a cry for help. Darryl Moore and the other councilmembers who supported Measure T got Mayor Tom Bates' electoral help because they supported Measure T, a developer-driven nightmare for the impacted neighborhood which turned out massively against it.

Gammon claims Aquatic Park would not have been affected, but even the pro-Measure T signs, which seemed to have a shelf life measurable in seconds, boasted of "improving" Aquatic Park.

Someday, when the Express has given up the comedy of using developers' phrases, such as "which was to include an artists' colony," I hope one of their writers will come take a good look at West Berkeley and notice that it is an artists' colony — because of the thoughtful miracle of the West Berkeley Plan, which, thankfully, evaded Bates' destructive Measure T loopholes.

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