While helping youth is always admirable, the sneaky thing about this plan--part of a whopping $2 million spent annually on graffiti removal--is that technically, it's within the purview and budget of City Commissioner Dan Saltzman, and Mayor Katz commandeered his office in order to push the plan through.
"We just kind of sit back and nod while the mayor takes care of things," admits Saltzman's assistant, Edward Campbell.
This move is a typical Katz-like tactic--pet policies for making the city more "livable" are strong-armed through city council, or have simply been operating for so long that they are left unquestioned. Either way, these tactics undermine the consensual basis for Portland's governing body.
"Mayor Katz sees this as a livability issue," said Sarah Bott, spokesperson for the mayor. "There is definitely a correlation between crime and graffiti; we're not just trying to stamp out public art." In a total of four years, in fact, Katz will have spent approximately $874,000 on the youth graffiti cleanup program alone. Specifically, the recent city council action preserves a contract between the Youth Employment Institute (YEI) and the Graffiti Abatement Program; kids ages 16-21 apply to clean up graffiti as part of a GED program. The students are paid $7.50 an hour to scrub out and paint over graffiti. Operating under the umbrella of the nonprofit organization Janus Youth Programs, programs like YEI struggle with tight budgets and have little choice but to take whatever handouts they can find. And, sadly, that service seems to be more a reflection of the mayor's desire to remove graffiti, rather than city council's desire to help at-risk youth.