Just 3% of restaurants in crime-riddled San Francisco have not experienced graffiti or property crime in the past month, a shocking new survey found.
Restaurateurs are crowdsourcing the best cleaning solutions on social media as they are left spending thousands of dollars to clean graffiti and fix smashed windows, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, which reviewed the Golden Gate Restaurant Association survey of 74 restaurants.
Just recently, Supreme Pizza in the Mission District was hit with acid, owner Leandro Jayme showed ABC 7.
“This is acid, so you can’t just remove it,” he said, pointing to grime on a window. “They have to replace the glass.”
To do so would cost about $300, he added.
If business owners don’t clean up the mess, they not only face losing potential customers — they could also be on the hook for a $500 fine from the city if the vandalism is not remedied within 30 days.
That adds to the feeling that running a small business in San Francisco is like “death by a thousand cuts,” according to Hanson Li, a partner at three different restaurants.
He said Lazy Susan, a Chinese eatery, was broken into late last month, just days after its storefront was defaced — and weeks after another of his group’s bars was vandalized.
“All these seemingly small things not only have actual dollar repercussions but then, like, the repairs are going to be two times what they took,” Li previously told the San Francisco Gate.
The trouble seems to have begun during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the city’s Board of Supervisors paused any graffiti removal enforcement.
“When we had more than a year of not going to enforce [it], if we didn’t have that stick with the carrot… sometimes people would just let it sit on their building and then … more tags will come and another and another,” Rachel Gordon, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco Department of Public Works told ABC 7.
Then about a year ago, the department introduced a pilot program to remove and paint over graffiti in public areas that affect small businesses, at no cost to them.
The city’s 311 call center received 10,000 reports of graffiti on commercial buildings and sidewalks in the past six months, according to the Chronicle.
In total, requests to clean up graffiti skyrocketed 74% since the pilot program was introduced, Gordon told ABC 7.
But the response rate for those calls remains low, despite DPW’s goal to respond to such requests on public property within 48 hours and private property calls within 72 hours.
Since 2021, the Chronicle reports, the department’s “on time” response rate has been below 55%, and hit a low of 14% last year.
Meanwhile, San Francisco has spent $1 million on grants for vandalism relief since 2021 and earmarked another $500,000 over the summer due to demand, reported the Chronicle, which found that nearly 800 businesses received either a $1,000 or $2,000 grant for broken windows, graffiti or other vandalism.
But restaurateurs say the funds are insufficient to deal with the constant problem.
One restaurant, Shuggie’s, received a $1,000 grant for graffiti last year, but after spending $3,000 to clean up near-daily vandalism, co-owner Kayla Abe said they decided to just give up.
“It’s disheartening,” she told the Chronicle. “It just feels like there’s a huge disconnect between what the city thinks is good for us and how much we’re actually struggling on the ground.”
The Golden Gate Restaurant Association has taken it upon itself to get the city to act, with Executive Director Laurie Thomas meeting with city officials to discuss the issue.
She is pushing for “low-hanging fruit,” such as pausing the fine for businesses that do not clean up graffiti.
“Anything that can help enhance customers coming in and [businesses’] survival, I think is important,” she told the outlet.
Thomas noted that she found the police department’s decision to reassign an officer to investigate graffiti full-time encourging.
Officer Martin Ferreira, who has been employed by the police department for more than 20 years, said his position was created due to “the large amount of graffiti that was being reported” and increasing community woes.
“It has intensified as businesses are leaving, as businesses come under more hardship,” he said.
Nearly 30 big-name businesses have closed or announced plans to flee the area around San Francisco’s Union Square since January 2022, including trendy retailers like Anthropologie, Banana Republic and Crate & Barrel, as well as the investment firm that owns two of the city’s biggest hotels.
Since 2019, 47% of businesses in the area have closed, according to the San Francisco Standard.
Some 203 retailers were operating in and around Union Square pre-COVID; as of May, only 107 were left.