Painter Hal Turner spends his own money and time covering graffiti in Aptos
When local business owner Hal Turner, 51, was bothered by some graffiti in his neighborhood he took action and painted over it. “I drove by it for like a week and it was still there, and it was kind of bugging me,” Turner says.“And it dawned on me that, because I’m a painting contractor, I had a similar red at home from a job. So I went home grabbed it, went back and rolled it. It didn’t quite match, so I came back later in the day and rolled the whole wall,” he says.
That was 12 years ago. Since then, Turner has been painting over most of the graffiti in Aptos, where he grew up. Having lived in Aptos Village for 26 years, Turner says he likes to help around his community. “I, you know, did stuff in my youth that I’m not proud of, so maybe it’s a way of making up for that, too,” he says.
Turner is a one-man free urban renewal crew in a county that spends $100,600 on graffiti removal. Some of that is done by county road crews and some by the Volunteer Center of Santa Cruz County, which receives $78,000 annually for supplies and paint for laborers who donate their time in the unincorporated sections of the county. For comparison, the City of Santa Cruz pays $60,000 a year to a contractor to remove its graffiti, and San Jose pays $663,000 a year.
Turner is the owner of a small local painting company called Turner Painting. When painting over graffiti, Turner will often cover the entire wall with a similar paint that he has in stock, rather than search for the exact same color from the building. After he paints over a wall once it is faster for him to paint over future taggings.
“The taggings go pretty quick now, though,” he says. “It was more work in the beginning to paint a whole wall, but now if I go back and I have that exact red or that green just to paint over what they did, it’s pretty easy.”
Turner says he receives many positive responses from community members while he’s working. “They’re stoked,” he says. “I get so many people honking and saying ‘thank you.’ I’ve had people come up to me and offer me money.”
Many people living in the area have now come to expect Turner to paint over graffiti, he says. “Now if there’s taggings and a few days go by, people are like, ‘Hey, where’s Hal? He’s supposed to be taking care of this.’”
Some businesses also call him. Steve Allen, an Aptos real estate broker, says he and the people who work in his office appreciate the contribution that he makes to the community, “Whenever we see something get tagged, I’ll give Hal a call and he’ll come over the same day,” he says.
Allen is also a board member of the Aptos Chamber of Commerce, which recently awarded Turner the community enhancement award for his challenging work painting over the graffiti on the railroad trestle above Aptos Creek.
Turner pays for the paint and supplies that he uses out of his own pocket. He says he usually spends around a couple of hundred dollars a year but he once spent almost $400 on a single job repainting a mural under the railroad trestle by Aptos Creek although he says that that was a one-time deal. The money went to matching the colors on the original mural. Turner has asked local paint stores about donating paint, but says that he has not had any luck with that yet.
Turner drives through Aptos on his way to work, and when he sees new graffiti he likes to take care of it right away. “I drive through here every day, and if I leave my house and I see one that just happened that night I turn around right away and get the paint and hit it.” he said. “So whoever tagged it comes back the next day and it’s already covered.” he said. “I think it’s discouraging for them, whereas if it’s left there for a month, you know, they like it.”
This is his way of giving back to his community, says Turner.
“It’s amazing how much gratitude I get for such a little amount of effort, really.” he says. “I think everybody should find their own little thing to help their community in a small way. It doesn’t take much.”
PHOTO: Hal Turner is a one-man public works crew, spending hours each week painting over graffiti and saving the county big bucks. SARAH HIRSHLAND