Cal State Channel Islands Students Take on Graffiti Removal

By Tim Pompey

It’s a concrete corridor that stretches perhaps 200 yards or so along the Fifth Avenue stretch of train tracks in Oxnard just off Eastman Avenue.

Graffiti along the walls of the Rice Road Drain at Eastman in East Oxnard next to the railroad tracks and Fifth Avenue

From one end to the other, it’s filled with graffiti, but when the students of California State University Channel Islands finish with this community project, the walls will be painted a smooth grey. The graffiti, at least for a short period, will be covered over and people riding on Amtrak or Metrolink will have a clean view of what’s technically known as the “Rice Road Drain.”

Karl Novak (right), Deputy Director, Ventura County Watershed Protection District, Hannah Stumpf (left), Freshmen from Bakersfield, CA

Karl Novak, Deputy Director for the Ventura County Watershed Protection District, identified this area as a “spillover basin” that holds water during winter storms. This particular drainage corridor services the city of Oxnard.

At first glance, one wonders why this area seems to attract so much graffiti. Tags over tags, graffiti drawings, typical flourished lettering.

“It’s because it’s easily accessible and there are so many walls here,” said Novak. “We see graffiti throughout our channels and basically any space that’s open like this they are going to attack.”

Today, however, is a day for students to push back. They’re here to provide the county and the city of Oxnard a public service.

For that, they’re receiving support from the county’s Public Works Department and the Watershed Protection District and from the City of Oxnard’s Police Department. “The county is providing paint for this event,” said Novak, “and we’ve gone out and picked up a little bit more because it’s such a large event.”

Why this channel? “We picked this area out because it was dry and we can have a lot of kids here,” Novak explained. “This is a perfect place for this event.”

See event video by Dan Pinedo

Arianna Robles, Coordinator of New Student Orientation at California State University Channel Islands, explained why her student body is out here today. “Most of these students are either incoming freshmen or new transfer students,” she said. “Today, they’re getting their first taste of community service in Ventura County.”

There is some history being made here. “The student service assignment has been a tradition of Cal State Channel Islands for the past four years,” she stated. “These are all freshmen and transfer students along with the orientation leaders who serve in the summer to help with the incoming students.”

Every year the university looks for an activity where its students can give back to the community. The community service projects were previously coordinated by Rachel Huff (now deceased), who was in touch with the county’s Public Works Department and the Oxnard Police Department.

“Rachel coordinated with them to see if anything could be set up and that’s how we ended up with this project,” said Robles.

Robles talked about the purpose of this project:

“The mission of the university does talk about community service and civic engagement and we want to make sure that the students at Cal State Channel Islands know and understand the mission of the university and actually live the mission of the university.”

Beyond that, the university wants its incoming students to become acquainted with the region. “We want to educate them on the community, not only in Camarillo, but in areas within Ventura County,” she noted.

For students coming in from Oxnard, this project seems very appropriate. “A lot of our students do come from the Oxnard area and commute to Channel Islands,” she said, “so we want to make sure that we are helping the communities which our students actually live in.”

As for the students themselves, they’re here for their own personal reasons.

Nancy Prociuk, Freshman from Santa Clarita, CA

Nancy Prociuk is an incoming freshman from Santa Clarita. She plans to graduate as a liberal arts major with an emphasis in teaching.

“I just heard that we we’re doing a graffiti cleanup and I figured why not just go help?” said Prociuk.

But beyond community service, it’s her own personal experience that has motivated her to help.

“It always made me upset just to see how people would deface what others worked so hard to make, so I just want to help clean up what others defaced,” she explained.

Jalen Moody, a freshman from New London, Connecticut, plans to major in marine biology. He came west because of family and the number of schools out here that offer the program he wants.

“A lot of great marine biology programs I actually found in this state and if I have to go to college anywhere, I want to be in a place where I can make that happen,” he said.

He ended up here today, paintbrush in hand, purely by accident.

Students busy painting over graffiti

“It’s a funny story, actually,” he observed. “I actually came here expecting just to get a free breakfast because that’s what it said on the bulletin board.”

What he received was a little extra add-on:

“I came to get a free breakfast and then to my surprise somebody tells me about a volunteer opportunity. I was liked surprised, but in a happy way because I love volunteering, so I told them yes, and that’s why I’m here.”

The graffiti removal event has some important supporters, including the office of John Zaragoza, Ventura County Supervisor for District 5.

“The university worked through Supervisor Zaragoza’s office about doing a graffiti event and then Supervisor Zaragoza’s office contacted us,” said Novak. “We got together and found the perfect spot for this. This is a group effort that’s coming together today.”

Chris Smith, Engineering Manager, Ventura County Watershed Protection District/Operations & Maintenance

Chris Smith, Engineering Manager for the Ventura County Watershed Protection District/Operations & Maintenance, coordinated with the university in picking this site.

“This channel belongs to us,” said Smith. “We’re responsible for its maintenance and operations. That’s why we’re kind of overseeing this. We brought in all of the materials you see here, so the students just come in and paint.”

Smith and the university worked together to choose the site. The main reason for picking the Rice Road Drain was because it was dry.

This isn’t the first volunteer graffiti operation for Smith and his department, but it’s the first time he’s worked with a university or college. Early estimates had about 150 students coming. About 40 or so showed up. Still, Smith was pleased with their work.

“We have a third of the students we thought we had, but as you look up and down here, we’re making great progress. I’m very happy with these guys,” he acknowledged.

Marvin Boos (left), graffiti removal volunteer, Dorian Beaver (right), transfer student from Santa Monica, CA

Another important volunteer is Marvin Boos. Boos has been the city and the county’s go-to guy for graffiti removal for ten years.

“When I retired in 2007, I took my dog for a walk and as I was walking, I noticed more and more and more graffiti,” he recalled. “I started seeing this and I said, ‘Wow this is my neighborhood.’ So it was a personal thing. I just went and started painting graffiti out.”

Boos was inspired to work with the city of Oxnard. “I went to the city of Oxnard and said if you supply the paint and the supplies and everything, I’ll be more than happy to paint out graffiti,” he said.

Then in 2015, he got an additional call for help. “The county called me and said ‘Marvin, are you still painting out graffiti,’ and I said, ‘Yes I am.’ They said, ‘Can you help us with the flood control channels?’ Because the county of Ventura does not have a graffiti action program like the city of Oxnard. So my motto is maintenance.”

Senior Officer John Brisslinger, Violent Crimes Unit, Oxnard Police Department

He is credited by Senior Officer John Brisslinger from the Oxnard Police Department’s Violent Crimes Unit as being one of the key volunteers in the city and county in assisting with graffiti removal.

As Brisslinger noted: “I’m assigned to the violent crimes unit, but I also do all the graffiti investigations for the city. Having a guy like Marvin, a partnership with him, he’s an asset for me because there are areas that Oxnard’s Graffiti Action Program doesn’t get to, like this canal and the areas by Wagon Wheel.”

Brisslinger believes that removing graffiti from the Rice Road drain helps send a more positive message to those passing through the City of Oxnard on Amtrak or Metrolink. “From the police department’s point of view, it’s like this is the entry point to Oxnard,” he pointed out. “They’re going to look to the right and say, ‘Hey welcome to Oxnard.’ Is this really what we want our image to be? I don’t think so. We want to clean it up, maybe give it a little better look.”

As indications of gang activity, Brisslinger noted that there was only one gang moniker in this drain. But he does believe that tagging can lead to more involvement in gangs.

“To get into a gang, one of the things you need to do is put in work, and it starts with graffiti,” he said. “A lot of people tagging as “one-ers” end up getting into crews, and from a crew, they end up getting into a street gang.”

The key question to removing graffiti is, will the taggers come back?

“Generally, they’ll keep coming back,” said Brisslinger, “but I think persistence is the key. If you look at Marvin, what he’s done with Wagon Wheel, they just got tired of getting painted over within a couple of days, and that’s always been our goal, within 72 hours by the City of Oxnard, to get it removed.”

Brisslinger estimates about 100 arrests a year in the city for graffiti vandalism. The penalties can range from a fine to probation: “Usually with kids, since they’re prone to make mistakes, they give them a couple of opportunities. Then they get put on probation, and then once they get put on probation, we can actually go to their house, search their room, and it could also result in jail time.”

As for the students who are busy painting, Moody, a student from another coast, expresses his own positive viewpoint about being involved today in graffiti removal in Oxnard.

“It means a lot because I feel like this is such a great way to start my college experience because, mind you, I just started college technically yesterday,” he said. “I’m in a new city with new people and this amazing opportunity, not to do something for money, but just to help out a community. I just find that pretty awesome and it means a lot to me.”

Student volunteers from California State University Channel Islands spent a morning removing graffiti from the Rice Road Drain

Tim Pompey, a freelance writer who has done lots of local affairs and entertainment/cultural writing, lives in Oxnard. Tim is also a fiction writer (Facebook Page). You can learn about his books on

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