Lewis Griswold

Visalia man tackles graffiti in blight fight

Bill Huott fights blight by single-handedly removing graffiti and trash, making the Visalia resident an example of how one committed person can make a difference.

Normally he works neighborhoods north of Highway 198, but lately he’s been expanding his territory.

Last week, he focused on the Washington School and Jefferson Park area south of Highway 198 in central Visalia.

“There’s a high concentration of apartments, alleys and teenagers — a recipe for blight and crime,” he says.

In two hours, he removed 34 graffiti markings on trash cans and street signs, and nine stickers — graffiti artists write their monikers on stickers and slap them on signs.

“The best way to deal with blight is to remove it immediately,” Huott says.

He also removed one TV, a mattress, three old garage sale signs and two old concert posters and debris. And he made two new friends.

Most graffiti is done by people in their teens or early 20s who see themselves as guerrilla artists, he says. He keeps a list of their monikers and tracks their activity on a timeline sheet.

He also has a collection of stickers going back years.

Blight creates a climate of despair that is especially damaging to young people, he says.

“I call it the Petri dish theory. If the Petri dish is clean, you will grow a better kid.”

Huott, 56, a Tulare County employee, has credibility when it comes to tackling blight indicators.

For 10 years, he has been picking up trash and removing graffiti on his own time. He started by cleaning up his own block on the northside where he lives.

“We appreciate what he does,” says Lt. Candido Alvarez, the northside police station commander. “When people let a neighborhood go, it promotes crime. I wish more people would take the initiative to clean up their corner. It’s commendable.”

Huott praises the city for its program to remove graffiti, but it lacks the staff to fill the need, he says.

That’s where he comes in.

“I can’t do everything, but I can do something.”

His modus operandi is to scout an area and sketch a map showing the location of graffiti. He loads his truck with a graffiti remover spray, a scraper, rags, paint, brushes and other gear and hits the streets.

When he finds a sticker, he scrapes if off. When he finds graffiti, he sprays it with graffiti remover and wipes it with a rag until it’s gone, or as gone as he can make it.

If the job is beyond his ability — graffiti on the sidewalk, for instance — he’ll take a photo with his iPad and email it to the city.

Then he gets back into his truck, makes a large check mark on his map and drives to the next spot.