When he arrived at his family's air-conditioning repair business last week on Houston's east side and noticed fresh graffiti painted on the wall, Joe Accavallo wasn't happy.
"It's a disgrace. We try hard to get it back in shape again and keep it as clean as possible within reason and we come in and find wonderful graffiti written all over the walls. It's terrible."
Within a day, a crew had painted over the graffiti. The clean-up was free, a service the East End Management District has provided for the past decade. Soon, the Management District will begin removing graffiti from all city-owned property, places like sidewalks, stop signs, electrical boxes and light poles. Martin Chavez was the first painter hired by the Management District 10 years ago and now runs the graffiti abatement program.
"We got a system that's proven to work and we're going to just take that system city-wide and hopefully we'll be able to make a dent in the amount of graffiti drivers and citizens see in the city of Houston."
The new five-year contract for the city won't include private homes and businesses, but Chavez says it will still go a long way toward wiping out unsightly tagging in public areas.
"In most of the areas that we worked where we originally started maybe doing 100, 200 sites a month, we probably cut that in half. I can't say that the graffiti is gone completely, but the numbers have really gone down."
Before workers clean-up graffiti, they take pictures and catalog the tags. It's way of tracking gang activity and signals that are often a big part of graffiti. Patricia Harrington heads the Mayor's Anti-Gang office.
"There's a lot of different aspects of looking at graffiti. One of it is, it's a visual blight. Obviously it's a nuisance. But the other part is too is that it's non-verbal communication between gangs, and so after law enforcement and others are able to take a look at it and get a lot of information from it. Then it's really important that we clean it up and take it down right away."
Not all graffiti is gang-related. Some is simply the work of street artists who want to be noticed. But art or not, it's still illegal. City Council Member Sue Lovell has led the anti-graffiti efforts in Houston.
"One of the perceptions is is if you have a lot of tagging, then you have a lot of gang activity in your city. We in no way, shape or form want that perception to take place in Houston."
When the new contract takes effect, residents can report fresh graffiti by calling 3-1-1. Four abatement crews will now cover nearly every part of the city as Houston steps-up its efforts to wipe-out illegal graffiti.