HAYWARD -- It was a wet November weekend a year ago when Pacer decided to go for the gusto and propel himself out of obscurity in the realm of spray-can vandals.

On a stretch of Jackson Street and around downtown, the 15-year-old "bombed" 21 targets -- many of them multiple times -- with his street moniker, sometimes using small and simple scrawls, sometimes large "throw-up" pieces. He hit businesses, homes, billboards, Dumpsters and just about anything that could conceivably serve as an illicit canvas.

What Pacer didn't know was that he was also signing his name up for something else: The Chuck Horner treatment.

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The 60-year-old pastor of Calvary Baptist Church has a long record of community service, and for the past half-decade he's been toiling with the Keep Hayward Clean and Green Task Force to improve the city's image. He's a self-described "net-weaver for the city, creating networks for people who didn't have them before," resolved to making Hayward a better place.

Most recently, the ubiquitous graffiti near his south Hayward congregation caught his eye.

"The city paid $927,000 to clean up graffiti last year, $740,000 the year before that," he said. "Every year, we could build a new community center and staff it with that kind of money."


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Pacer got caught -- such a spraying spree gets noticed by city officials, and it didn't take long for investigators to track him down. He was charged with felony vandalism, with a tab of more than $5,000 in restitution and 300 hours of community service.

That's when the young vandals fall into Horner's hands. The imposing, 6-foot-4, 300-pound preacher has the gift of gab and a booming voice, and can seemingly go on indefinitely. And that's exactly what he does.

"They get signed up for a 40-hour lecture," he said, adding that Pacer got much more time than that, because unlike most of his charges, he went over the $400 misdemeanor cap in damages. "I tell them what they're doing with that spray can -- they're hurting themselves, they're killing the community."

He'll talk about the intangible costs. Unseen, unknown damages that the kids never thought of before.

"You'll have a little old lady, she'll go to the bank and see graffiti," he said. "She doesn't know if it's a b-boy thing or a hip-hop thing, she sees it as a gang tag and she'll be afraid to come back to that bank. She'll take her money out and bank somewhere else. It's bad for businesses, and there's no way to measure lowered property values."

Horner speaks loudly and the courts carry the stick, but the pastor also believes in carrots, such as a legal way for kids to spray. In July, Horner completed building a structure next to his church that offers 200 feet of 8-foot-tall walls that don't go unused.

"I'd rather hear the rattle of a can and smell the paint on a Sunday morning than have them go out and bomb something else, being stupid with a spray can," Horner said.

Hayward police graffiti expert Officer Angela Irizarry said it's a terrific idea, and equated it to a skateboard park.

"Without a skate park, where would they be?" she said. "Downtown and on the streets. But if you give them a designated place, many of them will be inclined to do it that way."

Some of the kids who paint the structure are part of HayWallKru -- that's Horner's group of vandals-turned-artists. It's another positive reinforcement, Horner said, a reinvention of sorts.

He hopes to expand the program and persuade the city to consign some murals to the streetwise kids.

"People need to express themselves," said Uriel Nava, 19, a HayWallKru member who used to tag but now studies graphic arts and designs logos and posters for local musicians. "And you want people to see what you've done. Now I want a bigger audience to see it, rather than just people like me."

Horner acknowledges that aspect of graffiti: the need for recognition. In the trunk of his spattered Honda Civic are more tools of the anti-graffiti trade -- three five-gallon buckets of cover-up paint and the brushes to apply it.

It's a simple cost-risk analysis, Horner said. The less time a tag is visible, the less value it has for the tagger. It's hardly worth doing something dicey for a few hours of glory.

Take, for example, a wall near the Tennyson Skate Park that was long a magnet for vandals, tagged and retagged by sprayers vying to keep their mark on display.

"I went there every day for two weeks," said Horner. "Whenever I saw graffiti I painted over it. It got hit five more times in two weeks, then it stopped."

The local guys knew better, Horner said, but about a year later a new, unfamiliar tag appeared.

"Evidently some new kid didn't get the memo about the old geezer who will come by and paint over your tag as soon as it goes up," he said. "I think it was up less than three hours, and now it's been eight or nine months and it's still clean."

As for Pacer, so far he hasn't been allowed to join HayWallKru. He's been to Horner's house, where they shared a dinner of filet mignon and broccoli. And he wrote something in a progress report that Horner considers a high honor.

"He told them that I treated him like a person, not a criminal," Horner said.

But Pacer's got long hours of work to do, buffing out more graffiti. And Horner intends to bend his ear some more.

"When he's done his community service, that's when he gets to play," Horner said.

Contact Eric Kurhi at 510-293-2473. Follow him at Twitter.com/erickurhi. Read his blog at IBAbuzz.com/hayword.

HOMETOWN HERO
Name: Chuck Horner
Age: 60
Hometown: Hayward
Claim to fame: A pastor and longtime community activist, he's been involved with the Hayward Education Foundation, Rotary Club, and Keep Hayward Clean and Green Task force, and most recently started a program to alleviate the city's graffiti problem.
Hometown Heroes, a partnership between Bay Area News Group-East Bay and Comcast, celebrates people in the Bay Area who make a difference in their communities.
Do you know a Hometown Hero? Let us know about the work they do at HometownHeroes@bayareanewsgroup.com.