Graffiti is S.F.’s $30M-a-year problem, Newsom says

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom said that despite The City’s efforts, the problem of graffiti has reached new levels, costing taxpayers an estimated $30 million a year in damage to city streets and buildings.

In recent years, Newsom, as well as the Board of Supervisors, have implemented several strategies that have attempted to clean the ubiquitous graffiti from San Francisco’s walls.

In 2004, Newsom directed all city departments to make sure that graffiti was removed from city-owned property and buildings within 24 hours. Some departments stepped up, for others, the directive was “simply ignored,” Newsom said.

Several months later, Supervisor Sean Elsbernd sponsored an ordinance that requires property owners to remove graffiti — at their own expense — from their property within 30 days of receiving a notice from The City.

In 2001, a civil grand jury estimated that The City spends about $22 million annually on graffiti cleanup. The cost today is much higher, Newsom said, noting that the Public Works Department received nearly 20,000 calls last year with complaints about graffiti.

Newsom made the remarks while announcing yet another abatement strategy: A new streamlined system that will centralize graffiti removal through the Department of Public Works and boosted with $475,000 of funding from the Public Utilities Commission and the Municipal Transportation Agency.

By putting the ultimate responsibility on the Public Works Department — which also runs The City’s 415-28-CLEAN graffiti hotline — Newsom said he’s hoping to streamline accountability.

What’s needed is more enforcement and stronger punishment for those caught committing graffiti, some property owners say.

“We feel like we’ve been double-victimized, because it’s our property that’s been messed up, and then we get fined by The City if we haven’t cleaned it up fast enough,” said Ken Cleaveland, director of government and public affairs for San Francisco’s Building Owners and Management Association.

On average, about four graffiti-related arrests are made citywide each week, said Officer Christopher Putz, who runs the SFPD’s Graffiti Abatement Unit. Of those arrested, a number are repeat offenders.

Last year, the District Attorney’s Office assigned one attorney to work only on graffiti cases. On a first offense for graffiti, individuals are sent to a program in which they have to perform a mandatory 96 hours of graffiti cleanup and pay restitution, said Bilen Mesfin, a spokeswoman for the department.

“In cases that involve repeat offenders, our office advocated vigorously for stiffer consequences,” she said.

beslinger@examiner.com

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