When 23-year-old Aaron Perry-Zucker first moved to the Excelsior neighborhood last summer, he noticed the large amount of graffiti covering signs and benches in John McLaren Park that differed from the green space near his former Berkeley home.
As a result, the 318-acre park — a potentially ideal open space — was not as appealing as it should be, Perry-Zucker said. So he took matters into his own hands.
Around Thanksgiving of last year, Perry-Zucker — a graphic designer by trade — decided to paint over the tags himself. Normally The City uses muted brown or standard grey to cover up graffiti, but Perry-Zucker wanted to use more attractive colors.
He started with red. And then he noticed something. The vandals weren’t returning immediately to retag the signs he’d painted. At least not right away. Normally, within 24 hours of The City repainting a sign, Perry-Zucker said, the taggers would return with their spray cans.
Once he painted the McLaren Park sign red, though, it took more than a week for the graffiti to return, but it too had changed. This time it was more than just the black letters.
“They used colors,” he said. “It wasn’t just the black outline, but they used yellow to shade it in.”
Then Perry-Zucker went back and covered the same sign with bright blue paint. It has not been tagged since, he said.
Because his challenge seemed to be successful, Perry-Zucker said he has started painting other spots in the park that are filled with graffiti, including benches that are now bright blue and red and another sign that is now yellow.
Perry-Zucker acknowledged he has not contacted The City for permission to paint.
Though the effort to cover graffiti in The City’s parks are appreciated, it is not an accepted practice.
“The public is not allowed to paint over city property at will, no matter how bright and colorful the paint,” said Recreation and Park Department spokesman Elton Pon.
Pon encouraged all residents to report graffiti using The City’s free tip line, 311.
He said Rec and Park receives 3,300 reports of graffiti each year. The department responds to reports within 48 hours, he said.
The covered signs and benches will return to the standard color found in all parks sometime this week, according to Pon.
According to Ryan Thayer, volunteer coordinator with the Excelsior Action Group — a community organization aimed at beautifying the area — Perry-Zucker’s project adds to what the action group’s efforts to clean up the community.
“Color is always better than concrete,” Thayer said of the colors. “One of our murals gets tagged pretty frequently.”
Though he knows The City will likely not allow the park’s signs to remain brightly painted, Perry-Zucker said, he continues to search for items in the park to spray bright colors.
“I’m looking for cool things no one really notices,” he said. To change “what was a utility before and make a little more magical, a little more fun.”