La Habra’s graffiti guardian
By Christian Fletcher
La Habra Journal
Early in the morning before some have even gone to sleep, Ernesto Oros wakes up to start his day.
After a 71-mile commute from Banning, Oros begins his shift working for the city of La Habra’s graffiti clean up team at 4 a.m.
His task is to keep La Habra graffiti free and remove any and all markings in the city throughout the morning.
But Oros, 55, has no complaints, in fact he’s doing what he loves. Oros always wanted to work for the city. He also wanted to combat the stereotype of the lazy city government employee that he had seen so often.
“I told myself if I got a job at the city I wanna do my best and work hard,” Oros said.
And work he does. The father of four and grandfather of nine, navigates the city and is committed to removing the markings that can turn into blight.
His daily route takes him through the city’s parks and along its railroads where graffiti is at often its worst.
From a large unsightly tag to a more artistically painted wall, Oros documents each blemish for the Orange County Sheriffs Department and La Habra Police Department before carefully matching the paint to the preexisting wall’s color.
Law enforcement uses the data Oros collects to track gang activity associated with graffiti, making his job not just one of beautification, but also supporting the men and women who keep the community safe at night.
Oros has been working for the city of La Habra for almost 15 years, and in that time he has seen the tides of gang territory shift. When painting over fresh graffiti he can not only tell you the “crew” that tagged it but a bit about how long they have been around.
However, Oros is just one part of the team keeping La Habra beautiful, While he’s out hitting the streets Josie Anderson is in the office making sure he has all the support he needs from the city.
Anderson has been working for the city for 16 years and in fact she was one of the driving forces to help transition the graffiti clean up program from an all volunteer based system on the weekend to a daily effort supported by the city.
Anderson has seen the evolution of the graffiti cleanup team move from a volunteer basis to the city employing a full-time employee.
When they started, she said they “didn’t have that many volunteers, there was more graffiti than we could handle at the time.”
From there, Anderson integrated the probation program which has been running strong for 14 years.
One year ago Anderson helped the La Habra Police Department and the Community Center create a joint venture called The Juvenile Diversion Program.
The program has minors convicted of crimes sentenced to community service help clean up graffiti.
Oros says he enjoys working with the kids and he has seen very few kids return to the program, showing him that it does have a good success rate.
Anderson explained one possible reason for the success.
“I tell Ernesto to be firm with them because thats the only way they are going to learn, and some of these probation and diversion kids have put on the graffiti themselves.” Anderson went on to joke, “I tell him sometimes to have them use a toothbrush to make sure they learn their lesson.”
But it’s not all tough words. Anderson has a sort of encouraging pep talk with the kids before they go out each time, letting them know that they can be so much more and they don’t have to waste their lives away.
“It was so neat that I had one kid say, ‘I wish you were my mom,’” Anderson explained. “When I asked him why he said, ‘Cause you care,’ that really hit me.”
It’s success stories like this that keep the program running and help keep La Habra beautiful. It also doesn’t hurt that Oros considers Anderson the best boss he ever had and Anderson has nothing but good things to say about Oros. The two make a great team in helping to keep La Habra clean.
If you would like to volunteer and join the team that keeps La Habra graffiti free, contact Josie Anderson at JAnderson@lahabraca.gov.