San Diego's East Village used to be a place of prostitution, transients, drug dealing, and gang activity in the 1980's and 1990's. The unpainted electrical and utility boxes served as the marking points used to conduct illegal transactions and were the reference points of criminal activity.
The painted electrical and utility box art that appears around San Diego started in 1997 in an effort to beautify San Diego's East Village. The art that is on the boxes is not the crime; to paint them was to cover and prevent the crime that was occurring at or on these boxes. San Diego's approval of the urban art on these boxes was an effort to deter the crime that was happening at these points while starting to beautify and gentrify the city.