‘Crusade’ targets S.F. graffiti

Keeping up with graffiti, potholes, damaged sidewalks and tree maintenance in San Francisco neighborhoods isn’t easy — just ask District 5 Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi.

“It’s been a complete crusade,” Mirkarimi said. “But we want this to be a clean, vibrant and safe community.”

Each week, one of Mirkarimi’s legislative aides, Regina Dick-Endrizzi, gets in her car and spends several hours scouring the district — which includes the Haight, parts of Hayes Valley, Western Addition, Alamo Square and a portion of the Inner Sunset — and writes down the maintenance and repair needs she sees. Other district volunteers also canvas the neighborhoods, and the office also logs complaints that come from residents.

“Sometimes things get clean and then a week later they’re tagged again,” Dick-Endrizzi said. “It’s a constant battle to keep up with the upkeep, which is partly the reason we do it so consistently.”

While most supervisors call city departments with maintenance concerns, Mirkarimi’s office puts each request into writing, using a specific form, called a letter of inquiry, that requires a response from the city department to which it’s addressed.

A note on each response is also included in the weekly Board of Supervisors’ agenda. Since January this year, responses to more than 80 letters of inquiry from the District 5 office — representing hundreds of maintenance requests — have been filed. The number would be higher, Mirkarimi said, but he began to “scale back” requests a year ago, after getting word from some of the city departments that the workload had become too great.

Tony Winnicker, spokesman for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which has received requests from Mirkarimi’s office for graffiti removal from utility poles, said the extra set of eyes is helpful.

“There are 25,000 streetlights that we have to manage,” Winnicker said. “We rely on members of the public — including members of the Board of Supervisors — to let us know when they are out or have graffiti on them.”

Keeping the neighborhood clean and repaired is not just a matter of aesthetics. It also helps keep incidents of crime down, according to a criminology theory that suggests more crime occurs in neighborhoods that appear neglected.

“Sometimes a tag [a form of graffiti] is still wet while we’re painting over it,” said Vallie Brown, a member of the Lower Haight Neighborhood Association. “But it works. We’ve noticed a huge difference.”

According to city officials, San Francisco spent an estimated $30 million last year to clean up graffiti.

beslinger@examiner.com

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