Vandals strike steps from campus
February 2, 2017
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Even though Cathedral Catholic High School student and cross-country runner Dominic Catanzaro ’17 has plied Gonzalez Canyon hundreds of times during his eight-mile practice runs, he still finds himself offended by the explicit language and images in the tunnel that connects CCHS to the popular open-space preserve.
“Besides focusing on running, there is not much to do on a run except focus on the scenery,” Catanzaro said. “Seeing the graffiti after finishing a run and arriving back on campus ruins the vibe of the whole run and doesn’t feel nice.”
The tunnel, which is located west of the junior parking lot, has become an on-going problem for CCHS and the surrounding community as vandals have used it to claim territory and to denounce CCHS and Catholic education in general. The graffiti covers the majority of the tunnel’s inside walls, depicting vulgar and explicit images of drugs, reproductive organs, and bigotry.
CCHS officials have combated the graffiti for 10 years to no avail.
“As a good neighbor, CCHS was painting over the graffiti, but it became too much to keep up,” CCHS Director of Facilities Mr. Sal Aiello said. “After 2011, [the tunnel] was supposed to fall on the City of San Diego, but I have not heard or seen them do much.”
A mitigation agreement between CCHS and the city of San Diego stated that the Del Mar-area high school was responsible for maintaining the surrounding space of the tunnel until 2011, but now the property is believed to have fallen into city hands, Mr. Aiello said.
Although some of the graffiti in the tunnel can be considered “art” and protected by the First Amendment, most of it sends derogatory messages about politicians, the feminist movement, the LGBT community, and the Catholic faith.
Due to its association with vandalism, which is a crime police departments combat across the country, graffiti is considered by many people as inappropriate, especially when it devalues properties and when business owners lose customers from the negative image that graffiti generates, according the office of District 1 Councilmember Mrs. Barbara Bry.
“Graffiti is illegal, and I want to work with the San Diego Police Department to enforce the law and hold perpetrators accountable,” Mrs. Bry said. “It is my priority as the District 1 councilmember to maintain safe and beautiful neighborhoods.”
In addition, graffiti costs taxpayers hundreds of thousands of tax dollars every year. In fact, the city of Oceanside spends $500,000 a year for graffiti removal, according to a recent article in The San Diego Union-Tribune.
As for the city of San Diego, officials are aware of the tagged tunnel, and they are taking this crime seriously.
“It is important to discourage graffiti artists by taking down their work immediately,” Steven Hadley, San Diego Community Outreach Director for Mrs. Bry, said. “If no one sees [their graffiti], then there is no point.”
Further, Mr. Hadley noted that some of the graffiti features anti-LGBT words, which he said could possibly be considered a hate crime under the California state penal code.
The information of this possible hate crime has been forwarded to the San Diego Police Department’s Graffiti Task Force, and patrols have also been increased under the tunnel, according to Juvenile Service Team Officer Robert Briggs, who is assigned to CCHS and the surrounding community.
Along with official involvement, the CCHS administration has a vested interest in getting rid of the graffiti in the tunnel to make the environment better for not only the CCHS students, but also for Del Mar residents.
“People should find alternative ways to artistically express themselves,” CCHS Dean of Students Mr. Wallace said. “Defacing public property is a terrible way to convey one’s emotions.”
Graffiti in the tunnel, although on public property, is only yards away from the CCHS campus, which is used regularly by CCHS sports teams.
“I would love to see something done, maybe a painted mural, to take down the graffiti and stop people from vandalizing the tunnel further,” Mr. Tom Rickling, a CCHS cross country coach, said.