A small park in southeastern San Francisco has become the site of a turf war between graffiti artists who consider the space their blank canvas and community members who plan to stage a coup with paintbrushes and trash bags this weekend.
More than 100 volunteers are expected to join city officials at Warm Water Cove on Saturday to clean and paint the park and rally for neighborhood leaders to become stewards of the desolate space where 24th Street hits the Bay.
Graffiti artists and members of the underground community who have been throwing unannounced concerts and parties there without proper permits are also expected to show up in force.
Warm Water Cove — also known as Toxic Tire Beach — is two acres of dry, yellow grass with one concrete bench, ailing trees and heaps of debris. Every inch — from the trees to the sidewalks and the bench— is covered in graffiti, as if the park has been used as a training ground for taggers and graffiti artists for decades.
In some ways, it has. The Port of San Francisco, which owns the park, has only one gardener who takes care of six parks and cannot keep up with the graffiti and other vandalism at Warm Water Cove. Graffiti artists and musicians took the lack of cleanup as a sign that The City was turning a blind eye and claimed the park as their own.
“This is one of the few areas in The City where there is free public art that still goes on in an unregulated and unrestricted way,” said singer and guitar player Josh Babcock, whose band, the Society of Rockets, has played an annual show at the park since 2002 — without a permit.
But with the new Third Street light rail operating a few blocks from the park and more residential developments popping up nearby, the park is an area demanding more attention, said Mohammed Nuru, deputy director of The City’s Department of Public Works, which is one of the agencies sponsoring Saturday’s cleanup.
“The community is trying very hard to make the park as usable as it can,” he said.
Corinne Woods, who walks her dog at the park and works part time for the San Francisco Neighborhood Parks Council, said people are nervous to visit Warm Water Cove because graffiti artists have dominated it for years.
“It just doesn’t seem fair that a small group of people can intimidate the rest of the community,” Woods said. “I love art in the parks, but it has to go through the appropriate process.”
Area merchants have also become fed up with the vandalism, Nuru said, adding that the graffiti has begun to spill out onto neighboring businesses, which are required by law to remove the graffiti within 30 days.
Graffiti artists say a one-day cleanup will only make the situation worse.
One graffiti artist who did not want to give his name said there would likely be a backlash of tagging — considered lower-quality art than graffiti — at the park after the Saturday pickup.
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