Newport’s Graffiti Avenger

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Grafitti mars a trash dumpster in a Newport Beach alley. Photo by Dan Purcell

When you think of cities with a graffiti problem, Newport Beach might not be the first one that comes to mind.

“Tagging,” as it known, usually signifies is a street gang marking its territory,or one or more of its members just leaving a mark for the vanity and self-satisfaction of doing so. Some graffiti is considered art by some. Most graffiti is not.

Most people call public graffiti vandalism.  That is what police and law enforcement call it for sure. There are plenty of laws on the books that make leaving graffiti a crime.

Even so, graffiti is everywhere, even in Newport Beach.

That’s where Newport Beach resident Dan Purcell comes in.

Dan Purcell pedals down a local alley, looking for grafitti to report.

Purcell is a man on a mission. He’s a one-man crusade clean-up graffiti in Newport Beach.  Purcell doesn’t have an army of volunteers fanning out across the city to catch graffiti vandals in the act, but what he does have is a bike and a cellphone with a camera in it.  Purcell covers a lot of ground in Newport Beach, from Corona del Mar to the Balboa Peninsula and nearly everywhere in between. When Purcell sees graffiti he stops and photographs it and calls the city to report it and city workers will remove it within 48 hours.

I sat down with Purcell on his home turf of Corona del Mar to have a talk with him about why he has made cleaning up graffiti in Newport Beach a personal crusade of sorts.

Purcell is not a shy sort of guy – he makes his views and opinions known and does it with gusto and conviction. Nobody could ever accuse Purcell of not be able to give his opinion on a subject, especially graffiti.

When talking to Purcell he tells me “one of the places I find graffiti a lot is around the alley behind Chronic Tacos in CdM.”  That location is just off the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Orchard Avenue. In the alley he says he has come across repeated cases of tagging of trashcans and other items.

He also has other hot spots in the city he tends to find graffiti over and over again. Places like Corona del Mar State Beach. The beach, he says, is focal point of illegal drug dealing and gang activity among visitors from out of town.  Purcell claims he constantly witnesses illegal drug dealing at the beach, at a park next to what is known as Pirate’s Cove. The park is on the backside of the parking lot tucked away in the corner.

Pirate’s Cove is a longtime special draw for,kids and families.  The area was used in old Hollywood movies for its rugged rock formations and its hidden protected cove and tidepools. There are even caves, now closed off to the public.

Purcell says he’s seen an increase in graffiti over the 13 years he’ been living in Corona del Mar, and although he doesn’t see the kind of “tagging” that more gang-infested areas in Los Angeles and Orange County have, he says he does see enough to make him angry.

Purcell seems to have many friends in city government who appreciate his one-man crusade.  His exploits are well known among city workers, all the way to the top. City Manager Dave Kiff, told the Independent that he is well aware of Purcell and his efforts.

Purcell believes the city is doing its part to combat the problem.

“The City is doing an excellent job, as is the contractor.  It gets cleaned up the next day, Sometimes it is cleaned up the same day.”

The problem, according to Purcell, is most acute on the Balboa Peninsula. In summer this is where the influx of people come to enjoy the city’s beaches. 

An exceptionally bad spot this past summer, Purcell said, was the alley behind the popular sports bar Rudy’s across the street from Newport Beach City Hall.  Purcell, using his trusty bike and his cellphone camera, reported the spot to city officials.  Later that same day a code enforcement supervisor emailed him back to tell him, “Purcell, Thanks for stopping by the office today. I met with a manager from Rudy’s regarding the graffiti and the stickers. They will removing the graffiti/stickers tomorrow”

According to figures provided by the city, Newport Beach spent about $40,000 a year cleaning up graffiti over the past two years.  The number of reports of graffiti to the city are between 750 to nearly 900 per year.  Just this past July and August the number of graffiti reports totaled nearly 200.

When asked, Purcell says he has his own theory about who commits most of the graffiti vandalism he sees: “juveniles on drugs.”

“I noticed more of it Corona del Mar this summer, but I do not know if it is better or worse citywide“ he reports. But Purcell has noticed a new trend: “Stickers seem to be getting worse all over town”

Purcell also has contemplated the city’s options to reduce graffiti: “Reduce the number of signs and clean and maintain the signs we have. I would keep all poles clean and traffic signals painted. I would better manage commercial refuse containers and clean up the alleys. I would better manage residential refuse.

“Frankly, many parts of our city are just dirty. Pressure spraying gross areas would be good. Patina is one thing, but dirty grime is something else entirely. Businesses need to take ownership of keeping their storefronts and store backs clean. We need a couple of tough cops on bicycles – on the streets. Too many officers just cruising around in squad cars.”

Purcell says he also subscribes to the “Broken Window Theory.”

“The broken windows theory is a criminological theory of the norm setting and signaling effects of urban disorder and vandalism on additional crime and anti-social behavior,” he said. “The theory states that monitoring and maintaining urban environments in a well-ordered condition may prevent further vandalism as well as an escalation into more serious crime.”

Purcell’s theories and his approach to combating graffiti may still be up for debate, but one thing is for certain, you’ll find Dan Purcell on his bike cruising the streets and alleyways of the city, with his camera and cellphone, trying to make a difference one “tag” at  a time.

If you see graffiti in the city, you can call the City’s Graffiti Abatement line at 949-644-3333. For more information about the program, visit

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  1. Great article. I had the pleasure of meeting Dan. It’s good to see people involved in protecting our quality of life and property values. It would be nice if more people got involved. It’s easy to help if you put the graffiti hotline into your cell phone and call whenever you see it, even if it’s just a little marking. Wiping their marks away immediately lets the inland gang bangers know who is in charge of this town, and it’s not going to be them!