He leaves only a symbol.
The lines are hurried and abrupt. The colors seemingly unconstrained by logic. Letters are playful and unruly, almost childlike.
The hand that created them is ghostly in its elusiveness.
But this is no artist or Zorro-esque crusader swashbuckling about town. In the eyes of property owners, police and clean-up crews, “Nacho” is a scribbler who respects no bounds, a spray-can wielding miscreant whose “work” is destructive and devaluing.
Richmond has long been home to swarms of restless taggers. Some are artistic savants, seeing all the community as their canvas, and leaving behind downright startling testaments to their flair and talent. Others are motivated by gang aggrandizement, marking territory and issuing warnings.
Nacho appears to follow neither modus operandi, police say. Nacho isn’t pretty. He isn’t menacing. He just likes for his name to be ubiquitous, especially in the western portion of the Iron Triangle.
“There he is, ‘Nacho,’” muttered Officer Matt Stonebraker, while on routine patrol in Richmond’s central district on Feb. 11, referring to the crude signature which had been tagged (this time, without the ‘o’) in a dingy yellow along an otherwise mild, blue wood fence that lines the street near Portola Avenue and 16th Street.
“We have no idea who he is, but he will be facing felony vandalism,” Stonebraker said, looking at the graffiti while his partner, Officer Anthony Diaz, steered the police cruiser around the bend.
Nacho is new to the scene but his output has been prolific. Stonebraker and Diaz, who split their time canvassing the Iron Triangle on bicycles or in a marked unit, have been playing a cat and mouse game with Nacho for several weeks. They estimate that Nacho’s handiwork has cost thousands in cleanup paint and labor hours. Meanwhile, Nacho has struck dozens of times on public and private walls, streets, sidewalks and other spots.
On a few occasions, the officers have staked out the vandal’s favorite targets near the 1700 block of Portola Avenue, in hopes of springing on him in the act. Instead, they’ve been left to call on city crews to clean up the mess. They have no description. No suspects. Nacho could be anyone, anywhere.
“We are a proactive unit, but we’ve been a step behind” Nacho, Stonebraker said.
While he may have an amusing name and an ostensibly non-violent mode of criminal conduct, Nacho, whomever he is, faces serious charges when and if he is captured. Stonebraker said Nacho is wanted for felony vandalism, defined in California as vandalism amounting to more than $400 in property damage. If caught, Nacho faces up to $10,000 in fines and 16 months in jail, according to the state penal code.
Capt. Mark Gagan, who oversees police operations in the Iron Triangle, said graffiti in the city is still a problem, and is generally motivated by either personal ambitions or demarcation of gang territories.
“In the case of ‘Nacho,’ it seems this vandal is trying to create notoriety in a subculture,” Gagan said. “Regardless of the motivation for tagging, these vandals diminish the beauty of our neighborhoods.”
Perhaps most disturbing, Nacho appears to have grown restless. After another Nacho-hunting expedition in his established habitat came up empty last week, Officer Diaz learned that Nacho had struck elsewhere.
“We found out that he has vandalized the Point Richmond Area,” Diaz said. “According to the City Redevelopment Crew, Nacho tagged 50 feet of sidewalk leading down to the public beach.”