A stretch of the Prince Memorial Greenway in downtown Santa Rosa was closed Tuesday morning as crews replaced broken and vandalized light fixtures that illuminate the pathway on the north side of Santa Rosa Creek.
The path was closed from 9 a.m. until just after noon so that crews could use a mobile lift to remove broken lenses and bulbs and install new pieces. City officials were alerted in early January that numerous elevated path lights were damaged and out, said Tom LoCoco, parks supervisor.
"Some of them have bullet holes in them," city public works department electrician Dana Kutches said.
The light replacement cost about $6,000 in materials, according to city crews.
City officials last year launched two programs to thwart vandalism and crime on the half-mile greenway, which starts at Santa Rosa Avenue and connects to other pathway systems, including the Joe Rodota Trail.
Greenway Cleanway coordinates volunteer groups for graffiti removal, trash pickup and weed removal. Greenway Guardians is modeled after Neighborhood Watch and encourages regular users to wear buttons supporting the park and report vandalism and other crimes.
"The Greenway Guardians isn't about approaching anyone or being police in the area. It's abut being a presence," said Georgia Pedgrift, the city community engagement coordinator. "The idea is that you have filled the space with a positive influence and it makes less room for other things."
City groundskeeper Ryan Dodds said he walks the greenway every day, removing or covering fresh graffiti.
"Getting it off right away, it really deters them from coming back and doing it again or someone counter-tagging," he said.
The greenway, which runs along the creek and intermittently drops below downtown roadways, has been a draw for the homeless. On Tuesday morning, at least two temporary camps were tucked in among the shrubbery near where crews worked at the South A Street overpass.
"The problem is bigger than just picking up litter and painting over a little graffiti," said Lisa Grant, park maintenance superintendent. "We are doing our best to keep it presentable and change the culture down there."
ArtStart, a nonprofit group that commissions young artists to create public pieces, has seen several of its projects damaged along the creek in recent years, including a dragon mural the group removed in 2011 after years of battling repeated tagging. The group is in the process of rebuilding and replacing the dragon with a graffiti-resistant tiles.
"It's interesting because ArtStart has been around 13, going on 14 years, and the defacing is actually a very new phenomenon," said Chandra Woodworth, creative director for the group. "We have only sort of come upon it in the last five or six years or so, right when the economy collapsed."
Staff Writer Kerry Benefield writes an education blog at extracredit.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. She can be reached at 526-8671 or kerry.benefield@press democrat.com. On Twitter @benefield.