After the Oct. 29 arrest of two teenage vandals who spray painted a sound barrier wall in Cotati, Cotati city manager and chief of police say while graffiti isn’t too common, City Manager Damien O’Bid and one Sonoma State University art professor are open to the idea of eventually having a common space for street artists to beautify walls with their work instead of seeing cases of graffiti.
The two Sonoma State students, Marco Polanco-Gruszynski and Ethan Zogg, were arrested for felony graffiti vandalism after the Cotati Police Department received a tip from a concerned Maple Avenue resident about vandalism taking place near Barden Court, according to a Cotati Police Department press release.
Sergeant Craig Guydan responded to the call and found the two men, “As they spray painted the sound barrier with aerosol paint,” the press release says. The pair had tagged their identifying monikers of “EOPc,” “SRD” and “SSU” on the wall and admitted to having sprayed the wall at an earlier date.
While they had previously conspired to graffiti that same location, Cotati Police Chief Michael Parish, said that graffiti vandalism isn’t often a common crime in Cotati and they don’t see too many cases of it, especially during the day.
“It’s not that common, it kind of comes and goes, it’s a little sporadic as far as graffiti vandalism. But luckily we had a witness and it was in the daylight and so we were able to move in to make the arrest,” Parish said, who also mentioned that most cases of graffiti occur a night, making it difficult to find a suspect. “A lot of these will happen in hours of darkness where the vandals are harder to catch.”
Cotati City Manager Damien O’Bid also said they don’t receive many complaints of graffiti or see many cases of it. “We don’t often get complaints about graffiti,” he said. After a drive around Cotati where sound barrier walls are located near E. Washington and E. School Street, there were no visible signs of graffiti.
Chief Parish said there aren’t too many ways to help prevent vandals from spraying a wall, but better street lighting to deter vandals at night is an advantage, as well as community members keeping an eye out for suspicious activity.
“The more lighting at night the better and if there are any suspicious people out late at night we like to see that reported by our citizens,” Parish said.
While graffiti may not be as prevalent in Cotati as it is in San Francisco, where an upwards of $20 million per year is spent on mitigating graffiti on city streets — according to a report in the online San Francisco Appeal publication, one Sonoma State University Art History Professor, Michael Schwager, said he would like to see spaces for street artists become more prevalent in Rohnert Park and Cotati.
When asked if he would support the idea of creating designated spaces for street artists or muralists, he said he would be in favor of the concept as it would help spread the work of others.
“I would be in favor of that and for places that support any form of art. If there was a place for people to come and paint (on a building or wall) then I think that would benefit the community,” Schwager said.
According to O’Bid it is a possibility for the city to look into commissioning artists to paint wall art or create a street art space. And while the idea may take a while to manifest through city council, according to O’Bid they are open to the idea.
“It is a possibility to do street art, we haven’t started looking for people to do that or locally for people to do murals, but we will take different ideas to the council and then to the public,” O’Bid said.
But what is considered to be street art and what is considered to be graffiti? Schwager, who is also the gallery director for the art department at Sonoma State, said that can be a difficult question depending on how people view art and what they believe is aesthetically pleasing.
“The line is pretty thin between the two. Vandalism implies something is being done without permission, but Banksy (an anonymous London artist made famous for his street paintings and graffiti) never asked for permission to do his street art,” Schwager said. “And beauty is in the eye of the beholder, something I show to my art history class can be different to someone else, someone may find (graffiti) tags interesting and some may find it visually disruptive.”
However, he did say that the main difference between graffiti vandalism and street art is the goal behind the act.
“Vandalism can often have hurtful messages like swastikas or be hateful and target a group or individual. Street art often has some sort of redeeming aesthetic quality and value to it,” Schwager said.
Yet for the two Cotati vandals, who were found with six aerosol paint cans, they conspired to commit vandalism at that location, as Zogg had informed Polanco-Gruszynski about the tagging location and the pair had parked their car at a nearby Union 76 gas station and then walked to the area to spray the wall, according to the press release.
The two graffiti vandals were booked into Sonoma County Jail and Zogg was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit a crime and one misdemeanor charge of vandalism and will have his next court appearance on Wednesday, Nov. 8.
While Parish and O’Bid said cases of graffiti vandalism isn’t as common, other forms of vandalism are more common in the Rohnert Park/Cotati area. Several local RP park bathrooms were defaced and included damage to the sinks, toilets and damage from fireworks being set off, said RP City Manager Darrin Jenkins in his latest Voice column. Consequently, the damage led to the closure of the bathrooms for several years and the city is now working to reopen them and add additional security measures such as video cameras to help prevent further vandalism.
The Cotati graffiti case is still under investigation and anyone with further information should contact Sergeant Guydan at (707)792-4611.