DIRECTOR'S ZONE, OCTOBER, 2007
I want to begin by extending the sincere and heartfelt condolences of the entire District 7 staff to the family of Djuan Bush, a Caltrans Maintenance Worker from District 4 who was sadly killed while in the line of duty on September 25. This latest tragedy is a somber reminder of the hazards Caltrans workers face on a daily basis. Let us all please take a moment to remember Djuan Bush and the entire Bush family. The California Transportation Foundation (CTF) has established an account to receive donations to assist the Bush family and all Caltrans families who have lost loved ones in the line of duty. Donation checks may be made out to "CTF Memorial Fund" and designated "Bush" on the memo line. They can be mailed to CTF, 581 La Sierra Drive, Sacramento, CA 95864. Please consider donating to this worthy fund.
Continuing on the subject of the hazards of Caltrans freeway and highway work, is the issue of graffiti and graffiti removal -- and the challenges facing our Maintenance crews. The visual appearance of our roadsides forms one of the most important impressions of our State Highway system by California’s motorists. Hence, Caltrans will continue pushing forward on graffiti removal efforts.
In particular, for a number of years, the increased amount of graffiti tagging has increased – on our freeway structures, soundwalls, signage and also murals. In the past, taggers, who consider themselves artists, would leave other people’s artwork alone. It has now come to a point where murals have become a preferred target for taggers.
Our Caltrans Maintenance Workers put their lives on the line every day to remove graffiti. There is no State budget for graffiti removal. The funds spent for graffiti removal are taken from our Maintenance budget. The estimated $5 million dollars spent last year on graffiti alone could certainly be better spent elsewhere improving our highway system. Through a special grant, Caltrans also utilizes funding to have murals restored as well. Unfortunately they are being tagged just as quickly as they are being restored – and even during restoration.
Graffiti is having other negative impacts as well, because taggers have become more prolific and more aggressive. We have noticed recently that there has been an increased number of attacks, or threats of attacks, on Caltrans employees – taggers brandishing weapons and, in other cases, people physically striking Caltrans employees who are just doing their jobs. This behavior is absolutely unacceptable. Caltrans employees are not to fight back, but please report all instances. We are working with the top management of the California Highway Patrol to prosecute these offenders to the highest extent of the law.
I have also recently spoken with Director Will Kempon, who is working with legislators to pass enhanced legislation stating that attacks on State employees in the process of doing their work, would increase the severity of the penalty; similar to those protections in place when police officers are attacked.
Caltrans is doing our best to keep our roadways free from graffiti. Our Design, Project Management and Maintenance are using every opportunity we have when building a soundwall or retaining wall, to include vegetation including vines – so the vines will grow and cover the walls. This is one of the best deterrents that we have against graffiti.
Caltrans also needs to look for opportunities either through transportation enhancement activity grants with some of our local and California Conservation Corps to work on small irrigation projects and vine plantings so that can we can get vegetation coverage on existing and older walls.
We are also heading toward what appears to be another very light winter where rainfall is concerned. It is important for the Department to reduce the amount of water we are using on landscaping along our roadsides. We are very fortunate that a significant amount of landscaping that we do have is irrigated using reclaimed water. Caltrans uses reclaimed water whenever and wherever available.
Caltrans is also very pleased that our Landscape and Maintenance personnel are also using more examples of a mixture of beautiful hardscape and drought-tolerant plantings. They are just gorgeous! One example is located at the I-10/I-605 Interchange. We are also finishing an improvement project at the I-110/SR-47 interchange in San Pedro, that once finished, will be another gorgeous example of low-impact, drought-tolerant landscaping as a gateway into a community.
Continuing to remove graffiti -- as well as picking up trash -- are two important functions of Caltrans that we do to keep our roadsides beautiful. These efforts will make for a cleaner, greener Los Angeles.