White Center community members come together to discuss a community response to graffiti

By Cliff Cawthon
Reporting for White Center Now

White Center community members gathered at the NorthMart Furniture store on Thursday to discuss the rise of unauthorized graffiti on walls and local storefronts in the business district.

(Part of a tag on the NorthMart building, the meeting site)

The area is known for its murals reflecting the diversity of the area, but concerned residents have noticed a recent uptick in graffiti that they say destructively differs from those murals. 

(One of White Center’s distinctive murals)

“We are an artistic community, but these [tags] are territorial and can potentially cause violence,” says Bobby Beeman, president of the White Center Chamber of Commerce. A little over a dozen people came to take part in the community meeting where the Chamber and their partners in the Community Development Association presented a three step proposal, and solicited input from community members on solutions to the problem.

Participants came from various parts of the White Center community – local businesses, representatives from King County including staff from the office of County Council Chair Joe McDermott, members of the North Highline Unincorporated Area Council, and people from the neighborhood.

The unauthorized graffiti tags worry some of the business owners, as they are concerned that defaced storefronts mean that the businesses will be unappealing to shoppers. Despite the concerns about the graffiti, community members wanted their response to be productive rather than punitive: “We do not want to send air of threat … however, this is going to stop one way or another.”

In the Chamber’s plans, disaffected or homeless youth between the ages of 15-25 are the social group that the chamber wants to focus on engaging. One participant, who identified himself as Brian, the owner of adult-video store Taboo, spoke to how he thought that youth are being used by individuals as a way to designate gang or criminal territory. The danger of this going unaddressed, from Beeman’s perspective, affects everyone: “When you’re on the street and there aren’t safe spaces to put your head it becomes a violent situation”

Many in the room stressed that homelessness isn’t necessarily associated with, or causing, this issue. That’s important given the recent controversy over siting of a shelter in White Center. In regards to engaging homeless youth, and youth in general, Beeman and the Chamber, as well as their allies, proposed a three-step plan to take action and engage them as well as other youth and potential graffiti artists in the area. 

The three-point plan is based around repair, advocacy, and youth and community engagement. McLendon Hardware in White Center has agreed to give a discount – through the Chamber – to business owners who cannot afford paint, as well as to equip them with other tools.

Seth Oakes from the King County Community Work Program, part of the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention, said his department is willing to “move forward and help in [graffiti and trash removal] where we can,” going forward. This first phase of this plan, as it was identified in the meeting, can build upon the Community Work Program; which re-directs people who have been charged into community service projects in lieu of incarceration or detention.

The second part of the plan relates to the Chamber and the White Center Community Development Association’s commitment to advocacy, by partnering with graffiti artists, advocates, and locals to determine and develop future spots for murals. The hope is that artspace can displace and disrupt graffiti tags and activity and get people active and involved with the community.

The third and last phase would focus on bringing youth into the process. NHUAC president Liz Giba was excited about the prospect of engagement, both as an alternative to criminal prosecution and as a preventive and educational tool: “I think it would be cool if the kids helped develop them.” Giba stressed the value of openness: “Bring them into the neighborhood, I think that … everyone has something to offer.” 

This plan still doesn’t change the law. King County Sheriff’s Office Storefront Deputy Bill Kennamer said that graffiti is vandalism, a misdemeanor, with potential penalties including a $1,000 fine and up to 90 days in jail. Lan Nguyen from Councilmember McDermott’s office shared that McDermott and his colleagues in county government are also working to explore alternatives to incarceration and criminal penalization for youth: “[We] want to work on figuring out what we have … who’s eligible and how can they get connected with that. I think the idea of a community coming together to say, ‘We don’t want youth to go through this harsh and punitive system, we want to be there to support him or her and support the family, [is] wonderful and beautiful.”

If you want to learn more or get involved with the push to remove graffiti from the area, email WhiteCenterCC@gmail.com.

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14 Responses to “White Center community members come together to discuss a community response to graffiti”

  1. Thank you, White Center Chamber of Commerce. I learned a lot and it was good to see so many people from the community, King County and the local news.

    Now we can come together and solve the graffiti problem as best we can.

    Readers, make sure to contact the WhiteCenterCC@gmail.com with you concerns, observations and solutions. We need the whole community on board.

  2. It was the WCCDA that started the program to address graffiti in White Center over 15 years ago. And in partnership with the CDA, the Chamber initiated and completed 15 murals from 2010-2012. We raised money from our members, coordinated efforts with the CDA during Spring Clean, worked with the Boy Scouts, Evergreen High art students, and the King County community service crews to make sure that graffiti was covered up quickly when discovered. We talked with businesses asking them to cover up tagging as soon as it is found. And we asked McClendons to save “oops” paint for our efforts. Last May during Spring Clean, we asked the CDA to allocate volunteers and our scout troop got rid of all the graffiti in the alley between 16th and 15th. It takes people who want to do the work, not people who only want to do the talk. It has all been done here before.

  3. Just wanted to clarify that the North Highline Unincorporated Area Council was involved with graffiti removal in White Center prior to the WCCDA or WC Chamber becoming involved. I still have graffiti removal equipment and paint provided by the NHUAC in the back of my car that was used for cleanup. I do appreciate the work put into the murals particularly the one by Evergreen High School on the north side of SuperSaver. However, most of the murals are currently defaced and even though I contacted the WCCDA about the mural on 107th needing attention last summer nothing has been done to clean it up. Now as a community once again united we will take care of the graffiti problem.

  4. Gill,thank you for all you do! Although not advertised, your contribution to our community is unquestionable. You are a role model to many (unfortunately, not all) of us.

  5. Liz, I couldn’t agree with you more about Gil! I have never lived in a community with someone like Gil out there everyday taking pictures of the graffiti and garbage and letting those who will take care of it know where it is.

    I know the graffiti at Steve Cox Memorial Park was a constant project of NHUAC. Thanks to all who care about our small community.

  6. Actually, I was on the NHUAC for the four years prior to (2000-2004) and just as the WCCDA was created, and the re-painting of the business district was initiated and led by the then “new” WCCDA not the UAC. To suggest otherwise is not fact. The UAC leadership during that four year period was the former NH Fire Department chief who initiated and led the pro-Burien annexation effort, which has continued by Ms. Giba, the current Fire Department Commission and NHUAC President. The NHUAC endorsed Burien annexation in 2012 under Ms. Giba’s leadership. Also, I personally caught Ms. Giba and her friend at a WCCDA Summit several years ago with multiple electronic polling machines, trying to vote multiple times to indicate that more supported Burien annexation. When I caught her, she quickly took the extra machines out of her lap and stopped the attempt. I am an Eagle Scout, I am not making this up. To now try and shift the credit of the important mural and anti-graffiti work of the WCCDA and claim it for the NHUAC seems interesting to say the least.

  7. I did not know that the Eagle Scout Motto included making angry, baseless and false claims against people.

  8. Actually I mentioned the fact because I figured that someone (like Barbara), who was not there, would claim that the incident did not occur. It did. You weren’t there Barbara, so using your words, it appears to me that you are the one making the “angry, baseless, false claim”?

  9. Yea, good see more White Center community residents reading about the graffiti problem we have.

    Now let’s UNITE all of the White Center community, tackle the graffiti and keep WC clean! You can volunteer to help by checking out WhiteCenterCC@gmail.com

  10. I have followed Mr Ufkes career in the White Center Area for more than 20 years. And he is a disgrace to Eagle Scouting and the boy scouts of America. He constantly makes false or miss leading statements and I have personally heard him threaten people of highline and white center during and after some of the meetings in the area. Mr Ufkes is a land speculator and will do almost any thing to promote his ideas and his wants. He has no real interest in the area except for his own betterment. He totally destroyed the White Center Chamber in 2 years. Which I thought was a little slow for him as I thought he would do it in one year he would do it one one year. The true people of Highline need to question his actions and statements very closely. Thanks. Bob

  11. The two links below provide the good readers of the White Center Now blog about my activities in White Center (where we have raised our children) and will explain why Mr. Price continues to make personal attacks against me in public forums. Needless to say, as I have said before about Mr. Price, one thing about America is that even the “do-nothings” get a voice.

    1.) highlinetimes.com/2013/03/14/news/letter-ufkes-replies-price-letter

    2.) http://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/op-ed-reject-the-proposal-to-annex-white-center-to-burien/

  12. Final comment on this “reply” trail: Thank you to the White Center Now Blog for letting this play out.

    Mr. Price, I have never threatened anyone with physical violence as you are suggesting. Ever. I did make a political comment to Ms. Giba at the recent Boundary Review Board hearing, informing her that I was going to make sure that the community knows about her many, in my view, caustic actions over the years towards anyone who does not agree with Ms. Giba’s strong support of Burien annexation. It was not a physical threat, it was a political threat. If she or anyone else misunderstood it, I am sorry.

    In addition to the action by Ms. Giba, mentioned in an earlier post on this reply string, about polling at a White Center Summit, Ms. Giba also spent a year trying to undue and relocate the new White Center library out of its beautiful new location on SW 108th in White Center, demanding that the library board relocate the White Center library further south into Burien. Ms. Giba argued against building our new library across the street from our elementary school. Instead, she tried to push it away from our kids because she hoped that a location in Burien would help her quest to be annexed by Burien.

    My interaction with Ms. Giba all started in a public meeting over a decade ago, where I stated publicly that we should learn about what both Burien and Seattle could offer through annexation, because at the time both cities were an annexation option. This was prior our voters soundly rejecting Burien annexation by 65% in 2012. Burien has now dropped its interest in annexing us, much to Ms. Giba’s consternation.

    After the meeting, Ms. Giba (whom I had never met) came up to me, got within four inches of my face, and started screaming at me. “Who do you think you are, etc. etc. First impressions are important to me, and as a result of this outburst, I have avoided Ms. Giba whenever possible. And proudly, I have challenged her views and actions, and the views and actions of anyone else, whenever I felt that they were not in the best interests of White Center or a viable long-term governance plan that will make White Center reach its wonderful potential.

    Thank you again to the White Center Now Blog for allowing me to share this bit of White Center history.


    Mark Ufkes
    White Center resident

  13. As per my attacking Mr Ufkes Why does he think questioning his actions is an attack? I am merely stating some facts about him and asking people to review and question his actions and statements. My comment about the boy scouts and him was based on his taking an oath to up hold the US constitution and by laws as an Eagle scout and Scout leader.. Then some time back he published a letter in the then Highline times in which he stated that marijuna shops and sales in the community were good for the community? Marijuna sales and use are still against federal law which he took a federal oath. It may be legal as per the state but his oath was with the federal government? Therefore I would question his working as a scout leader and being an good Eagle scout? And the people should at least question this action. For some reason everyone seems to think he is an expert on everything and never questions him,. And when they do disagree with him or question these actions and statements its an attack? They should check them out or question them at least. As for him saying I am a do nothing I do take part in a great deal of the local community meetings and actions. I just don’t spend a lot of time promoting my actions as he does. If you know him he always gets his name in every little thing he does. Good luck.