LA City Council Approves Over $1M to Clean Graffiti From Towers

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles City Council voted last Friday to approve nearly $4 million to remove graffiti covering three abandoned skyscrapers in downtown LA, secure the site, and restore the public right of way on the adjacent sidewalks. The towers made headlines earlier this month when graffiti artists tagged them from top to bottom in the span of about a week.

In an amendment to the motion, $1.1 million was set aside to install new fencing, remove scaffolding left by the property’s developer, and initiate security services, according to Peter Brown, communication director for LA City councilmember Kevin de León, who co-sponsored the motion with councilmember Bill Blumenfield. An additional $2.7 million may be allotted for graffiti removal, further security, and fire safety upgrades once the city receives additional estimates for the work.

Brown told Hyperallergic that the entire property, which covers a city block directly across from the event venue LA Live and the Crypto Arena, will be surrounded by a roughly 10-foot-tall steel barrier, making it harder to scale than the current chain-link fence and leftover construction scaffolding. Since news of the graffiti first broke, people have continued to trespass on the site despite constant police presence, even base-jumping off the building.

“A $1 million fence will not keep anyone out,” Aker, one of the artists who tagged the buildings, told Hyperallergic. “It’s a waste of money. They need to either finish that project or demolish it to start something that will be finished.”

The Oceanwide Plaza mixed-use development was put on hold in 2019. (photo Matt Stromberg/Hyperallergic)

The Oceanwide Plaza luxury development has languished in a half-finished limbo since 2019, when its developer, Beijing-based Oceanwide Holdings, ran out of funding and halted construction. The brightly colored tags covering several stories of all three derelict towers garnered worldwide attention, with critics decrying it as vandalism and others celebrating it as the transformation of urban blight.

“The graffiti has to be removed,” Brown told Hyperallergic. “Residents have requested that.” (The city did not receive any complaints about the graffiti directly from Oceanwide, the property’s owner, he said.)

When asked why the city did not act to clean up and secure the abandoned site sometime in the five years after Oceanwide withdrew, Brown replied that “there were discussions with the developer about completing it … there was still intent to finish the project.” The approved motion also includes plans to recoup the money from Oceanwide, though that may prove difficult. In January, a Hong Kong Court ordered the liquidation of Oceanwide Holdings, and just last week, unpaid contractors on the project filed a petition in court to force a sale of the property.

For many Angelenos, the graffiti-covered towers represent a fitting response to the failures of speculative capitalism, and they view the millions spent to erase the artwork as money that could be going to much-needed social programs.

“For safety reasons I understand the need to secure it … But there are too many to mention communities in Los Angeles that need help,” street art gallerist and curator Roger Gastman wrote on his Instagram. “The streets are always saying things — but the city might be saying MORE by continuing to prove they don’t give a damn about serious issues and helping those really in need.”

As for the legacy of the towers, DR1, one of the first artists to tag them, feels it will remain secure no matter what happens next. “They can erase the graffiti, but they can’t erase the impact it had throughout the city and the world,” he said.

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