SF Doubles Down Against Graffiti

by Andrew Szeto on March 19, 2014

Supervisor London Breed introduced legislation yesterday to address the growing problem of graffiti in San Francisco’s streets. In front of a MUNI bus covered with graffiti, Supervisor Breed, along with City Attorney Dennis Herrera, SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin, Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru, and others, presented a new policy that city officials believe will make a major difference.

According a Budget and Legislative Analyst report, graffiti abatement costs the City around $19.4 million per year. Additional costs are incurred from private property owners who must paint over graffiti themselves or bill the city to do so.

The revised graffiti ordinance seeks to work with a variety of city departments to create a more efficient and effective way of dealing with graffiti in the city.

“We decided to work with all of these city departments to ask for additional resources and to make what they already do more efficient,” Supervisor Breed said.

311 Director Nancy Alfaro, SFPD Deputy Chief Hector Sainez, Graffiti Advisory Board member Melorra Green, and SF Beautiful members were also in attendance.

The legislation hopes to bring more accountability to graffiti offenders by enabling the City Attorney to undertake civil cases, thus, requiring offenders to pay monetarily for their crimes. Supervisor Breed noted that criminal prosecution was not proving to be an effective way of preventing repeat offenders.

“90% of graffiti offenses are done by the same person,” she said. “Pursuing a criminal case on one act of graffiti, on one tag, is rarely an effective use of resources.”

“Civil courts, however, provide a more attainable way to try and go after offenders,” Supervisor Breed continued.

The legislation will work on the creation of a database to centralize specific graffiti tags reported by city employees. Utilizing the 311 app, the process of reporting and characterizing graffiti tags on city buses will be further streamlined, allowing for city police to analyze tags and taggers. This would enable serial cases to be built and reported to the City Attorney for civil suits.

Supervisor Breed cited evidence of a jurisdiction in East Los Angeles that uses a similar enforcement system that has proven to reduce costs of graffiti abatement. Over a four-year period, the city of Pico Rivera saw a 55% drop in the area of graffiti abatement.

“If we dropped by 55% of the offenses based on what we spend now to abate graffiti, that would be $11 million potentially,” Supervisor Breed said.

Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru said that his department takes over 300 calls per month over graffiti and spends millions in cleaning it up.

“Graffiti in the Department of Public Works and the City is vandalism,” he said. “99% of the calls we deal with are vandalism.”

“I am looking forward to the City Attorney’s help in making us recoup costs,” Nuru said.

SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin said that the department is spending around $15 million a year cleaning up graffiti.

“Every one of those dollars are funds that we could be dedicating towards doing more preventative maintenance on our vehicles or putting more service out on our streets,” he said.

City Attorney Dennis Hererra spoke on the fact that he currently has to go after property owners and victims of graffiti rather than the perpetrators. With the new legislation, he would be better able to prosecute the offenders.

He said, “The legislation will ensure that those responsible for denigrating neighborhoods are the ones that will ultimately be responsible for their handiwork.”

Supervisor Breed also spoke of the damage to graffiti artists that go through the proper channels to display their art.

Graffiti Advisory Board member and artist Melorra Green said, “We need more public art, not vandalism.”

The revised legislation will hopefully save the City millions of dollars, Supervisor Breed said, freeing up money for other uses.

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