Restricting the sale of spray paint and other supplies certainly won't eliminate graffiti in East Multnomah County. But new ordinances could make it more difficult for vandals to continue defacing property.
And in our view, increasing the hassle factor for vandals makes government intervention worthwhile. Cities throughout the United States, including Portland, already have done what Gresham is now considering - they've adopted laws placing limitations on the sale of spray paint and related materials such as paint nozzles.
Typically, these laws require stores to keep cans of spray paint out of the public's reach - in glass cases, for example. They also require that people show identification when they buy spray paint and that stores keep a log of who is purchasing these items.
Some larger cities have seen decreases in graffiti, at least temporarily, after such laws have taken effect. The city of Portland jumped on the anti-graffiti bandwagon in November, although results from its new ordinance aren't as encouraging, so far, as they have been in other cities.
But Portland's persistent graffiti problem also could be related to the fact that its neighbors haven't taken similar steps to restrict spray-paint sales. It's easy for vandals to catch the MAX train to Gresham, load up on supplies and then engage in destructive acts either here or in Portland.
Gresham City Councilor David Widmark is proposing to cut off this spray-paint supply route by cloning Portland's ordinance. Ordinarily, we wouldn't be enthused about a law that puts a new burden on some retail businesses. In this case, however, we have to concede that Gresham's businesses suffer even more damage from the constant tagging that occurs in this community than they would from overregulation.
Every time a business gets tagged or hit with graffiti, it must pay someone to clean up the mess. Even worse is the image that graffiti conveys. A community where vandalism is so evident is hardly an attractive place for business.
If Gresham adopts this ordinance, the three smaller cities in East Multnomah County ought to follow suit. If they don't, they'll be the next destination for vandals, and the problem will just get pushed farther and farther away from Portland.
Passing new laws, however, is only part of the graffiti solution. Citizens, businesses and local government agencies also must be ever vigilant in removing graffiti as soon as it occurs. Vandals get discouraged when their work disappears within hours. And their impulsive behavior is thwarted when they can longer just walk into a store and either shoplift their supplies or buy them unchecked.
New paint laws will make it somewhat harder for stores and ordinary consumers to conduct their business. But that small sacrifice is justified if the new rules also complicate the lives of vandals.