EVAN DUCHARME/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINERLondon Breed is proposing that vandals should pay to clean up their marks.

Graffiti vandals should pay for cleanup costs

Graffiti is a costly, enduring problem in San Francisco. Taggers have marked up walls, signs, utility boxes and even sidewalks, leaving residents, businesses and The City to handle the cleanup costs. The graffiti leaves an indelible mark on the pocketbook: an estimated $20 million per year for city departments and property owners to scrub off and paint over the vandalism.

The ones largely avoiding the costs and any penalties are the ones doing the graffiti, and Supervisor London Breed is headed in the right direction by proposing that they pay for some of the damage.

There already is penalization for graffiti on both sides.

Property owners whose buildings are vandalized must remove the graffiti within 30 days or face penalties. Taggers can be prosecuted, but stats show relatively few are even arrested. In the 2012-13 fiscal year, there were 201 people arrested on suspicion of graffiti crimes.

Breed’s proposal would allow the Department of Public Works and the Recreation and Park Department to pursue civil lawsuits against graffiti vandals. This idea, which has been successful in San Diego, would free San Francisco from the process of going after vandals. Instead, the City Attorney’s Office would be authorized to file lawsuits on behalf of the city departments, which are the hardest hit in terms of costs associated with graffiti damage.

It makes sense for The City to ease the financial burden on property owners — the target of the vandalism — and shift it to the people doing the vandalism. According to numbers from the Graffiti Advisory Board, there were 474 reports of graffiti on private property, which is down from the prior year, when there were 519 reports. But on top of the reported numbers, there were also 1,100 notices that the Department of Public Works issued to property owners in August for graffiti violations — failure to clean up the tagging for 30 days or longer.

Property owners have borne the brunt of the cleanup costs for far too long, and if they do not constantly paint or scrub the vandalism off their buildings, they then are fined. Most people can probably recall graffiti being painted over only to reappear in the next few days — a cycle of cleanup and vandalism that cannot be stopped by blaming and punishing the property owners.

It is clear that the threat of prosecution is not enough to curb the vandalism. Breed’s proposal would add another threat that hopefully will aid in the cleanup of San Francisco without continually leaning on city departments and property owners. It is time to place the blame where it belongs and to give those individuals the bill they deserve.

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