D'Wayne Brown rolls deep in City Heights. The director of Urban Corps' graffiti-abatement unit, he leads what is essentially the city's S.W.A.T. team against taggers.
"They put them up and we take them down," Brown says from behind the wheel of his Corps-issued late-model Ford pickup.
Through constant two-way radio contact maintained by headquarters with both Brown and his other unit in the field, paint-soldiers speak in the lingo of modern corporate America. The team's two vehicle assault fleet is "rolling stock" and team members are responsible for "self-generation," finding graffiti before it's called in-which will eventually be evaluated by the organization's "goal compliance" officer.
Decked out in a pair of smoked-glass shades and gold jewelry, something in the face of the 26-year-old Brown brings to mind Eddie Murphy. A native of Southeast San Diego, his uniform is as neat and tucked as Bankers Hill, his expressions and hand gestures carry a Hillcrest flamboyance.
"My wife's from back East," he says while creeping slowly along Polk Street, looking for fresh graffiti. "We went to visit her family once, and I can't figure it out. It can rain and be hot at the same time there. Out here it's either hot, or it rains, but it never does both at the same time."
A drab-brown fence catches his attention-a motley-colored array of squares covers the length of the block-long façade. Brown radios in the location to the support crew he has in the area. A huge, late-model flatbed Ford rolls up almost immediately.
"The neighbors painted out the graffiti, you see, but they have all those different colors," he says. "We'll come back and paint it all even. I think they have that same shade of brown on the truck."
The cab of the paint truck looks like the aftermath of a paintball explosion-the smell is sweet, something like a fresh marker. Urban Corpsmen Jeremiah Galarza and Soledad Orneles have the sidewalk lined with paper and their rollers in action in minutes. Beads of sweat roll down Galarza's forehead in the punishing 11 a.m. sun.
He talks of his recent return to the Corps, after entertaining another seasonal job for the past several months-the only gig other than his spot at the Corps he's taken since leaving high school in Chula Vista in 1999.
While sprinting through the fence coverup, he talks about the Urban Corps philosophy and what it's given him; he's an unabashed advocate of the operation and what it does for its associates. The Corps operates in several cardinal areas-graffiti abatement, recycling, urban forestry-all with the goal of providing jobs and training to young people.
All of which means very little in the field. Speed rules the day on Brown's crew.
Paint runs down the fence in streaks before Galarza rolls it on to cover a five-foot section; spills dot the sidewalk and grass. His painter-white shirt and pants are covered in streaks of every conceivable color; his hair and forehead turn into a mixing ground for sweat and thick chocolate paint.
In less than 10 minutes he reports the job finished-the crew is hungry to move on. Brown radios in to Ester at Urban Corps headquarters on 13th Street. The unit's dispatcher, she coordinates the crew with jobs they have on the day's agenda and the sites Brown picks out in his canvassing. She also has access to the master list of citizen consent-forms that permit Urban Corps to do their paint-outs.
"Here on Polk Street it's bad," Brown says later. "We've already got consents from all these neighbors-if we see it, we already have permission to paint it."
A job-training service for young adults created by the San Diego City Council in 1989, Urban Corps has contracted with the city for years in recycling, clearing creek beds, planting trees and cleaning up graffiti. A new pilot program, in affiliation with Price Charities-the organization behind City Heights' major redevelopment push-and in conjunction with City Councilmember Toni Atkins office, will be targeting the graffiti-saturated mid-city area for six months. The new offensive relies heavily on community input-with proper permission and paperwork Urban Corps can have graffiti anywhere in the district painted-out in less than 24 hours.
Anti-graffiti and community activists are pushing to have the program expanded to cover more of the city.
Brown feels ready for the challenge.
Cruising along Highway 94, overlooking a tagger hotspot of late, he reflects on the war and his little part in it.
"Well, they put a picture of a naked woman right in the middle of the street one time," he says with a clap of the hands. "We had to erase that one quick-that was a hot job."