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L.A. River's walls get much needed face lift

January 8, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
The Los Angeles River may be more concrete than river, but these days that concrete is a lot cleaner.The walls along the river are now free of the tags and graffiti that built up unabated for decades.

"Everything behind me was pretty much covered with graffiti tags form the 80s, 70s, 60s," described Tomas Beauchamp of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the L.A. County drainage area.

The Corps was allotted more than $800,000 in stimulus money to clean up the graffiti. Crews started painting last summer, and after tens of thousands of gallons of beige paint, they wrapped up a few weeks ago.

Now, the Corps and the sheriff's graffiti task force are sending a message to taggers by prosecuting.

"They're realizing that we're not going to tolerate it and that there's some bite behind the laws," said Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Koontz of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The LA River is a natural canvas for taggers, and it's a big canvas. It is 52 miles long. If you count both sides, that's 104 miles, the Army Corps of Engineers has to patrol.

The maintenance crews are contracted by the Corps to cruise the length of the river each day, removing trash and painting over any new tags that may pop up. The key is to hit the fresh tags as early as possible.

"Our contractor has 72 hours to respond to any graffiti, so if a tagger tags it today, 72 hours from today it will be covered," explained Beauchamp.

Sure the water isn't very clean and the river is still a monument to concrete, but at least now train riders won't be barraged with tacky graffiti, and residents are more likely to notice the wildlife that calls the river home.

Who better to get a facelift than one of L.A.'s oldest residents?