Activist fingered for protest graffiti on illegal scooter ads

November 20, 2009
By

John Ruch

JP CENTER—The president of the Jamaica Plain Business and Professional Association (BAPA) faced a possible felony vandalism charge in court this month after he wrote protest graffiti on two advertising scooters that were illegally parked on Centre Street for days.

The controversial ad campaign, which annoyed many local business owners, may head back to JP, the scooter company told the Gazette.

BAPA President Carlos Icaza wrote several slogans in marker on billboards attached to the scooters on Oct. 2, including, “I can’t shop locally because I can’t park here.” He paid $1,000 to South Boston’s Scooters Go Green to settle the case at a pretrial hearing without any criminal charges being filed.

“I shouldn’t have done it. I should have written on paper and taped it [to the billboards],” said Icaza, whose 30-year work as a community activist includes battling graffiti. “My zeal for protecting local businesses overwhelmed me. There were more creative ways to communicate with them.”

The billboard-towing scooters, which advertised Scooter Go Green’s own scooter sales, were parked for days in a zone marked one-hour parking during business hours. They already had been ticketed by the police for illegal parking, and officers ordered them moved while responding to the graffiti complaint, according to the Boston Police Department. Scooters Go Green had ignored a complaint from BAPA’s Executive Committee, BAPA board member Elaine Hackney wrote in a support letter for Icaza’s court hearing.

“We were shocked [by the graffiti],” said a man at Scooters Go Green who identified himself only as “Steve,” declining to give his last name. According to state corporate records, the scooter company is owned by Stephen Lancione and Steven Gigliotti, who are reportedly known as “Steve and Steve.”

The Steve who spoke to the Gazette said the company will never again park its advertising scooters in the same spot—at 673 Centre St. in front of Prudential Unlimited Realty. “We’re not trying to push anybody’s buttons, certainly,” said Steve.

But, Steve added, the company might use the advertising scooters elsewhere in JP.

“At the same time, we still want to be able to market our product to our customer base in JP,” Steve said. “We look forward to being able to promote our product more in JP.”

Steve said that Scooters Go Green has used the streetside parking marketing technique at least once before in another neighborhood, and was ticketed that time, too.

Icaza’s years of JP activism include serving on the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council and the local E-13 Police Station’s Problem Properties Committee. Under his leadership, BAPA’s traffic and parking committee has worked with local police on many improvements.

Those improvements include providing the very parking spaces that Scooters Go Green abused. The area was a loading zone until recently, when BAPA got it moved after complaints that trucks blocked the view for pedestrians in a crosswalk there.

Icaza’s vigilante graffiti was reported by another neighborhood activist, James Lesnick, who said he has seen Icaza go “too far with the self-righteous stuff” at meetings of the local Sumner Hill Association.

Lesnick said he was walking to the bank when he spotted Icaza in the act of writing on the scooters.

“I saw him with his big, magnum Sharpie markers, writing away,” said Lesnick. “He said, ‘Come over! See what I wrote! See what I wrote!’”

Lesnick was unimpressed. “Imagine if the police used Magic Marker [to write citations on vehicles]?” Lesnick asked. “Just because you’re head of the JP business association doesn’t mean you have more rights than the police or anybody else. You don’t do illegal things. It was just not a good precedent to set.”

Lesnick later e-mailed Scooters Go Green and the E-13 Police Station’s Community Service Office to say that Icaza had done the graffiti. Lesnick also contacted the Gazette several weeks later.

“I didn’t turn him in. I wasn’t trying to press charges,” said Lesnick, explaining that he just wanted the police to warn Icaza.

But the police did more than that, summoning Icaza to court on Nov. 5 on a complaint of malicious destruction of personal property—a felony. Icaza was never arrested or charged, and his $1,000 payment—$2,500 less than Scooters Go Green requested—ended the complaint.

Whether Icaza actually did anywhere near $1,000 in damage is in dispute. Lesnick insisted the markers had permanent ink. Icaza said they did not. In a court document, Scooters Go Green said it took four hours of labor at $75 per hour to clean the billboards. Hackney, who runs the Boing! toy store near the scooter scene, wrote that she was able to quickly remove part of the graffiti with a paper towel and a cheap cleanser called Goo Gone.

Lesnick also was unimpressed with Scooters Go Green, saying the company’s parked-scooter ads were “offensive” and “toying” with the privilege of public parking.

“I don’t think they’ll be back here with the scooters. They kind of learned a lesson, too,” Lesnick said.

But Steve at Scooters Go Green indicated to the Gazette that another streetside parking ad campaign is still on the table.

“I don’t know. I’d love to know more from the business people who did this,” said Steve when asked about using the technique again in JP, adding that the company wants to do some type of advertising here.

“We don’t have any animosity toward anybody,” said Steve. “We don’t want to make enemies with anybody. There are no hard feelings on our side.”

But in her letter, Hackney described a more confrontational approach from Scooters Go Green. Hackney wrote that she had noticed the scooters taking up parking illegally for “almost 3 days.” She happened onto the scene when police responded to the graffiti complaint. She said that there was “heavy debate” involving the officers, an unidentified JP resident and the two owners of the scooter company, who did not give their names.

The JP resident was complaining about the illegal parking. The scooter owners replied that “they had been willing to incur the cost of tickets as a cost of advertising but that didn’t justify the writing on the signs,” Hackney wrote.

Hackney wrote that she entered the discussion and agreed that vandalism is wrong, but that an illegal-parking ad campaign is, too.

“I asked them to consider their part in this problem,” Hackney wrote. “They said that they would make sure the Boston Globe heard about what this was like in Jamaica Plain.”

She added that the scooter company owners disputed how long the ad scooters had been parked on the street, and that they had ignored the BAPA request to move them.

“The large and what most of us would call blatant advertising was an affront,” Hackney wrote. “Asking them to remove it didn’t work. Did it justify damage to property? No, it did not…”

Hackney declined to discuss the case further with the Gazette, saying, “I think it went way too far.”

In a Gazette interview, Steve at Scooters Go Green was vague about the intent of the ad technique and the JP situation.

At first he said the scooters “were parked legally.” But apparently that meant they were in legal parking spaces. He later acknowledged the scooters had been ticketed, adding that the company paid its fines. He was also unclear about how long the company intended to leave the scooters there. He said a rainstorm made them too dangerous to drive away for some period of time.

“Usually, we drive around town. Usually, they’re moving billboards,” Steve said of the billboard-pulling scooters. But, he acknowledged, parking them for long periods on the street is also a deliberate technique the company uses.

“They’ve been left overnight in areas before, [received] a couple tickets once before,” he said.

“Although other neighborhoods weren’t upset by it, we respect everybody’s opinion,” Steve said. But, he added, “We aren’t going to tolerate any property damage.”