Council committee passes tougher spray paint ordinance

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A key Minneapolis City Council committee on Wednesday voted to tighten the ordinance governing the sale of spray paint, the latest in a series of efforts to stem the explosive proliferation of graffiti.

The ordinance would require that retailers store spray paint containers behind the counter or in a locked cabinet. It would also require stores to post signs notifying customers that they will not sell spray paint to anyone under the age of 18.

At a hearing before the Public Safety and Regulatory Services Committee, local hardware store owners voiced their objections to the ordinance, arguing that it would create an unnecessary expense, and hurt sales, while doing nothing to prevent graffiti. “I wouldn’t mind locking things up if it would make a difference,” said Caroline Fox of Nokomis Hardware in South Minneapolis. But, she added, the ordinance would be an “obscene” waste of time and resources.

Matt Hardin of the Minnesota Retail Hardware Association said members of his organization would have no trouble prohibiting sales to minors, but suggested that combating graffiti required a “community-wide effort.” He said local hardware store owners would be happy to be part of a task force that studied broader strategies for reducing graffiti.

Representatives from several neighborhood organizations testified in favor of the new law, as did Diane Waller of Savitt Bros. Paints. “This is a law that should’ve been passed long ago,” she said.

Council president Barbara Johnson said she favored convening a task force that would include retailers to study “less onerous” approaches to the graffiti problem, a suggestion that left Council Member Gary Schiff, the author of the ordinance, wondering what more information was needed. “We’re not lacking in data about this problem,” he said.

Schiff noted that the city received more than 12,000 complaints about graffiti in the past six months alone. And city officials have responded with a comprehensive approach: citizen education, an improved reporting process, free graffiti removal products, and increased enforcement. “All these have one thing in common,” he said. “They didn’t work.”

Ward 2 Council Member Cam Gordon agreed that it was time for the city to move forward with a stricter retail prohibitions, though he said he doubted it would solve the problem completely. “This is just one small step,” he said.

The committee voted 4-0 with Johnson abstaining on the measure. The full council is expected to take up the ordinance at its September 1 meeting.

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