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Saturday, May 28, 2022

Hanging In Against Graffiti

In his days as a San Gabriel Valley property developer, Sergio Martinez noticed that taggers would splash graffiti on just about any wall – except ones covered with ivy or other plants.

He went so far as to ask taggers why they didn’t just tear down the ivy. Their response? Too much work. But Martinez found that growing real ivy took too long and required him to install sprinkler systems.

“There was no product that was a quick fix,” he said.

So, like any budding entrepreneur, he created one.

Martinez dipped into his savings in 2009 and spent most of the year designing a prototype for a commercial-grade plastic ivy and finding a manufacturer in Taiwan.

Now, he runs Ivy-It Inc., a Claremont company that since 2010 has sold artificial ivy for walls, cell-phone towers and other unsightly structures. The city of Anaheim was the first customer, buying a few hundred square feet for a graffiti-prone wall along the Santa Ana (5) Freeway.

The company’s 6-foot-by-1-foot strands wrap around trees or poles and go for $25, while its 1-square-foot tiles for walls cost about $10. Customers can install the ivy themselves – tiles snap together, and can be attached with screws or plastic ties – or have the company do it.

Either way, Martinez said, taggers find the ivy tough to remove: The leaves can be pulled off but not the plastic grid that holds it together.

He would not disclose figures, but said last year’s sales doubled 2010’s and this year’s are on pace to triple last year’s despite his business being confined to Southern California.

Most customers are local cities and public agencies, many of which first heard of the company from its vice president, Sam Pedroza, a friend of Martinez who also is the mayor of Claremont and a member of several public boards.

“It definitely has been helpful to know some people with various cities and knowing what they’re going through in terms of the graffiti problems. If I see folks at a meeting or a conference, I say, ‘You guys should talk to my friend Sergio,’” said Pedroza, who stressed that he has not participated in any public decision-making that has benefited the company.

Ivy-It has private-sector customers as well. PlanCom Inc., an Escondido company that builds and maintains cell towers, has used the product on a dozen or so projects.

Brian Meurs, PlanCom project manager, said most local governments require shrubs or trees to be planted around towers to prevent graffiti and mask the structures, but live plants require water and maintenance.

“It’s definitely cheaper to go this route,” Meurs said. “I think we’re ahead of the game each time we do this.”

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