Taggers could be sued for graffiti cleanup


Repeat graffiti offenders in San Francisco could soon be slapped with civil suits to pay up for costs San Francisco incurs for graffiti abatement.

If passed, Supervisor London Breed’s legislation would allow the City Attorney’s office to after serial graffiti offenders to pay up for tagging public and private property in the City with help of several city departments including the San Francisco Police Department, Department of Public Works, Recreation and Parks Department and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

The City spends approximately $20 million a year in graffiti abatement, according to a legislative budget analyst report. Breed said at the Board of Supervisors Government Audit and Oversight committee Thursday that the legislation could save the City millions of dollars in graffiti clean-up:

“Overall our goal is to reduce graffiti on public and private property and save our taxpayers a significant amount of money.”

Evidence of repeat graffiti taggers would be captured by employees from various city departments that work on graffiti abatement by using their smartphones. Evidence would be sent to the City’s 311 system who will then send the photos to the San Francisco Police Department.

Breed said the Police Department has a dedicated crime analyst who would then catalog and analyze graffiti tags into a database. Data would be sent to the City Attorney’s office to after repeat offenders for monetary damages or serve community service.

Another component of the legislation includes not allowing recent convicted graffiti taggers to board Muni vehicles with spray paint, etching tools and slap tags. It would also ban the possession of the same tools at City parks.

John Haley, director of transit operations for the SFMTA, said the transit agency spends around $15 million a year on graffiti abatement.

Haley said graffiti on Muni vehicles can sometimes impact service because vehicles are taken out of service so staff can clean up the graffiti. The transit agency uses all sorts of clean up graffiti tools including graffiti removal solvents, power and pressure washing and deploying a mobile cleaning crew to vehicles out in the field.

The transit agency reported that they had 220 reported graffiti incidents over the last year, but Haley said the number is actually higher because incidents that are not reported.

Four Muni lines contribute to about a third of graffiti incidents. Those are lines are the 14-Mission, 44 O’Shaughnessy, 38-Geary and 49-Mission/Van Ness.

Haley said the transit agency is making efforts to improving graffiti clean up including $1.8 million in funding for vehicle fleet appearance and clean up in the most recent adopted budget (though contingent upon the transit agency’s fiscal health).

Muni riders can also play role in getting graffiti taggers by texting the four digit vehicle number to the transit agency’s graffiti hotline (415) 710-4455.

The Board of Supervisors committee approved the legislation Thursday and will now head to the full board’s May 6 meeting.

SFMTA Breakdown Graffiti Abatement Costs (does not include loss of revenue service):
Bus: $10 million
Rail: $2 million
Facilities: $1 million
Sustainable Streets: $2 million

Source: SFMTA

Jerold Chinn
Jerold Chinn is the San Francisco Bureau Chief of SFBay. A San Francisco native, he has spent a decade covering transportation in San Francisco. Send tips to or at Twitter @Jerold_Chinn.

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