A few weeks ago I posted an article here about some corporate sponsored spray painting that occurred on the sidewalks of Ocean Beach. It seems as though a company called Nutrisoda (or somebody in their employ) decided that a little guerrilla marketing in OB would be a good way to launch their San Diego marketing blitz. Their cutesy sidewalk slogans angered many small business owners who ended up having to scrub the stuff off their sidewalks.
About the time everybody’d finished with the cleanup, Nutrisoda responded with an email to the OB Mainstreet Association saying that, gosh, they were sorry, and would the fine merchants of OB like a few free cases of their swell product? Needless to say, their offer went over like a lead balloon. And there were lots of comments here at the OB Rag from readers who were also offended.
A few days later, Nutrisoda “street cart” appeared down on Abbott Street. The community’s response was basically to ignore it. The OB Rag went down and took a couple of pictures of the cart, but decided against posting them, figuring that we didn’t need to give them any more publicity. (Now Nutrisoda’s got billboards up around town, no doubt thinking that they’re doing their bit to beautify San Diego…but that’s another story.)
Walking away from the street cart, we noticed another bit of spray painting. This time it wasn’t any corporate campaign. The apartment building at the southwest corner of Abbott & Saratoga had a rather unsavory (racist) slogan spray painted in black on the building’s white paint.
Some readers have urged the community to look beyond the simple acts of tagging that occur to see the artistic significance and beauty of some street artists. The Culture Shock San Diego dance company recently produced a show called Graffiti Life at the Lyceum Theater in Horton Plaza that did an excellent job of exploring this topic, according to reviewers.
The prevailing sentiment in the Ocean Beach business community, however, is that tagging is vandalism, pure and simple. Some feel threatened by the taggers, saying that the additional costs that businesses are facing by having to undo all the “art” could drive them out of business.
There seems to be consensus about only one thing when it comes to tagging in Ocean Beach: that there has been a lot more of it recently.
The authorities in San Diego have fought the good fight over the years. It’s illegal for persons under 18 to purchase spray paint. About 60 people are arrested each month by San Diego’s finest for offenses relating to tagging.
SDPD Officer Bryan Hewitt and his partner scour the western region of the City, collecting photographs and keeping tabs on known offenders. They also handle gang-related activity, since in most neighborhoods tagging is connected to gangs. That’s not true in OB, according to Hewitt. There are groups of taggers that have given themselves names, like the Santa Cruz Killers and the OB Crowns, but their activities are pretty much related to “art”. In other communities tagging is a means for gangs to mark their turf. OB’s taggers are all about quantity. It’s been reported that they regularly engage in competitions to see who can leave the most “tags” in one evening.
Denny Knox over at the OBMA says that incidents related to tagging are now averaging over 50 a day. It’s not limited to spray painting: marking pens are used to tag signs and posts, windows are scratched up using etching rocks, and occasionally acid-based sprays are used on store windows. According to Knox, a typical plate glass display window costs $1200-$1400 to be replaced. The employees at OB Hardware say they’ve had to repaint their building three times in the last month.
One OB Rag commenter, responding to an earlier post on this subject, suggested that the recent upsurge in tagging is connected to the opening the “Vishions Smoke Store” at 5038 Newport Avenue. We visited this store recently and, sure enough, they have all kinds of markers, inks and spray paints on display, amidst a vast selection of smoking accessories. The store clerk told us that he was under strict orders not to sell markers and paint cans to anybody who mentioned having plans to use these materials for tagging. When asked why a smoke shop would be stocking paints, etc, he told us that they stocked those items so skateboarders could decorate their boards.
Up the street at OB Surf & Skate they have a dazzling selection of skateboards and accessories-just about anything a skateboarder could want is in stock. And if you’d like to learn how, they’ll even arrange for private lessons. They’ve been in business for a long time, and take great pride in their products. But there are no paints in stock. Asked about this, a store employee told us that there was no demand for such items.
Over at The Black, where they’ve been catering to OBceans needs for over four decades, with many smoking accessories, among other things, they have no paint or markers in stock, either.
If you venture out into the internet looking for tagging supplies, you’ll quickly run into PureG. Based here in San Diego, they seem (trying, anyhow) to be the Amazon of the taggers’ supplies world. They have a broad selection of pens, paints and accessories, and you can quickly learn about what brands taggers favor. Amazingly, enough those brands just happen to be the ones stocked at the Vishions Smoke Shop. Vishions is part of a small chain, with eight stores scattered across southern California and Arizona.
The issues with tagging aren’t going to be solved by closing down or boycotting one small retail store. Declaring “war” on taggers isn’t going to do much, either. (Look how successful the “war” on drugs has been.) But there does seem to be a need here for some serious soul searching in the community. Run the small businesses out of town and deface our beaches and cliffs, and the result could be Big Box retailers and gated communities. Lose the artistic aspect of OB and it will have no soul.
We’d love to hear your ideas on this subject, especially if you happen to be a tagger. The dialogue can be started here. Commenting on the OB Rag is safe (we’re not gonna share your info!) and simple. Are you listening?