In Mission and Pacific beaches for the last 24 years, that “somebody” has been retired school principal Maruta Gardner.
Working in conjunction with the Mission Beach Town Council and the San Diego Police Department, Gardner, on her tricycle with all her tools in tow, has been a one-woman graffiti “eradicator.”
“It has become my community service project,” said Gardner, who was principal at Mission Bay High School from 1990-95.
Gardner added the best thing you can do with graffiti is “to cover it up right away because, if you don’t — it grows.”
Gardner regularly patrols the beachfront, especially the boardwalk, looking to paint out any graffiti “tags” she comes across. She takes pictures and documents every tag she finds, sending them to the police who track them on a computer file.
Over the years, Gardner has become something of an authority on graffiti: What it is, why it’s done, who’s doing it.
She’ll tell you about several widely held misconceptions about graffiti. One is that it’s mostly gang-related.
“Police have arrested about 95 people on my picture list,” she said. “Ninety-eight percent of the guys they (police) arrest are 20-somethings, not gangbangers or teenagers.”
Gardner gave a case in point about a tagger whose mark was DAC, which was being scrolled throughout Mission Beach.
“Finally, when the police caught DAC, it was a 23-year-old white guy living in a multi-million dollar house in Encinitas with his parents,” she said, adding, “DAC stood for Da Crew.”
Gardner is not shy about telling you what she thinks of graffiti taggers, whom she refers to as “morons.”
Asked why taggers do it, Gardner said, “psychologists will tell you it’s insignificant people’s way of making their mark, because they have nothing else in their life. Smart kids don’t do this. It’s the insignificant morons that do this. It’s not even marking territory anymore, the way it used to be. Down here (beach), this is everybody’s territory.”
Gardner points out graffiti is a crime embodied in penal code section 594-625c that states, “Every person who maliciously commits any of the following acts with respect to any real or personal property not his or her own … is guilty of vandalism … if it defaces, damages or destroys property.”
The graffiti “eradicator” also notes that any substance, including chalk, no matter how well intentioned, is graffiti and illegal if its scrawled anywhere within the public realm.
“When do you say, your (graffiti) is OK, but mine is not?” Gardner asked.
Gardner uses recycled paint, always gray and supplied by the city, which she uses to paint over tags. She travels around on her donated beach tricycle. Her other tools include a box-cutter-like razor and scrubbing and cleaning materials, as well as a two-step ladder to get at the higher and harder-to-reach places, which are becoming increasingly common.
Gardner, who lives in south Mission Beach, generally patrols the boardwalk from the jetty to Feldspar Street in Pacific Beach just north of where the boardwalk ends. She said she’s found tags on just about everything imaginable: utility boxes, light poles, trash cans and everywhere on or along the sea wall.
“It’s endless,” she said, adding the worst part of it is that it keeps returning.
“It never goes away,” she said adding,” There’s always a new moron.”
Gardner said to never confront a tagger. It’s always best to document it with a photograph, and send it to the police or to email it to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Though the fight against graffiti is never-ending, Gardner’s vowed to continue it along the beachfront — no matter how long it takes.
“You just have to keep on it,” she said adding, “Don’t let the morons win.”