Santa Rosa’s Recreation and Parks Department has been hard at work all week looking for a way to remove the white and orange paint that has marred the stone pavers and concrete of Old Courthouse Square.
The source of the paint was not ill-willed pranksters with a penchant for brackets and numbers, but well-intentioned volunteers working to put on Santa Rosa’s 123rd annual Luther Burbank Rose Parade, which drew thousands to the brand-new $10.5 million square on May 20.
The unintentional graffiti was created after volunteers working for the nonprofit organization that runs the parade headed to a hardware store near their office in Windsor, looking for a temporary way to mark placement of booths for the accompanying festival.
“When they purchased the product, they were told it was washable by water, and that’s what they needed to know,” parade manager Judy Groverman Walker said. “It’s a total bummer, and everybody feels bad.”
The product they thought was a kind of temporary spray chalk ended up being spray paint.
Mark Weatherbe, manager at Garrett Ace Hardware in Windsor, broke down the confusion behind the purchase, although he couldn’t say whether the paint had been bought at his store.
“If someone’s taking the word ‘chalk’ and thinking it’s the chalk you can write on the sidewalk with, it’s not the same terminology,” he said.
The pressurized cans of “chalk paint” are most typically used, he said, to give furniture a distressed look.
“If they go in looking at the word chalk and thinking it’s water-soluble, it’s not,” he said. “It’s permanent.”
To add insult to injury, the stones the city chose to pave the square with are intentionally porous. Intended to improve water drainage, they also soaked up the paint, making it even more difficult to remove. Dubbed “Hydro-Flo Permeable Pavers,” the manufacturer’s website notes the stones’ advantages include helping to replenish water to ground aquifers, reduce slippery surfaces and quickly relieve standing water.
“Honestly, we had no idea that it was not coming right off,” Groverman Walker said. “We totally thought we had the right product.”
A group of about eight people from the nonprofit headed to the square Tuesday night, scrubbing away at the paint with an eco-friendly graffiti remover. Their efforts paid off in part; the paint on the concrete has all but entirely faded away.
But the pavers are a different matter. They’re going to need more attention by paid contract workers, the cost of which the Rose Parade nonprofit will cover.
“The city is working on it. We’re working on it,” Groverman Walker said. “We just want to make sure it’s fixed correctly and promptly, and we’re doing all we can to make it right.”
After the failed attempt with the graffiti-removal solution, the city’s recreation and parks department is working with the group to bring in a contractor to pressure-wash away the paint as soon as Thursday.
That advice comes after the city reached out to the paving stones’ manufacturer to inquire what might be done.
The cost will be roughly a couple thousand dollars, said Adriane Mertens, marketing and outreach coordinator for the recreation and parks department.
“It’s an unfortunate mistake, and when they became aware of it they were quite apologetic,” Mertens said. “They know, and they want to make it right. So now it’s just a matter of finding out the best way.”