San Francisco deals with increasing graffiti, tagging to private properties

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) — If you think you’ve noticed more graffiti and tagging in San Francisco lately, you’re not wrong. It has gotten worse. Graffiti is illegal and for a city that is trying to improve its image, it’s going to take more than enforcement by police to get the city cleaned up.

Suaro Cervantes is a Mission District muralist whose work got tagged a few times as he was prepping.

We asked him if he know who did the tagging. He said he did find out, but never reported it to police.

No need, because once word got out that it was Cervantes who was painting the mural, it became off limits to any tagger.

“The ones that just scribble and tag for the hell of it, those are the ones that are a problem,” expressed Carlos “Cookie” Gonzalez, a muralist and a former probation officer.

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Some call it “infringing to impress.”

“There’s a bunch of knuckleheads who just don’t care, whatever,” he added.

It could be a name or a sign which is typically only known to them and while you might think it’s an eyesore, if enough people start noticing their moniker, in their minds, they have achieved some kind of notoriety or fame.

“Especially after COVID, I think there’s kind of like a lack, a loss of respect,” said Cervantes.

How did things get so bad? For one, during COVID the Board of Supervisors paused any kind of graffiti removal enforcement.

“So when we had more than a year of not going to enforce, if we didn’t have that stick with the carrot and stick sometimes people would just let it sit on their building and then you’re right more tags will come and another and another,” explained Rachel Gordon, spokesperson for the San Francisco Department of Public Works.

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Property owners are the ones who have to pay to paint over the graffiti.

“This is acid so you can’t just remove it. They have to replace the glass,” said Leandro Jayme, owner of Supreme Pizza in the Mission District.

It’s almost like a cat and mouse game. When they tag it, you paint over it. “Then they come again,” he added.

This ends of costing the property owner hundreds even thousand of dollars. “So a small glass like this one, just this square right here, if I replace it – $300,” said Jayme.

Police use surveillance video to help connect the tagger with his moniker and try to build a case from there.

They also catch a few taggers in the act.

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We asked Marty Ferreira of the SFPD Graffiti Abatement Division, how many people actually get caught and arrested.

“Personally for graffiti, I’ve written a handful of arrest warrants. Five? About there. I would say that’s roughly… not too many. Well as a police department our aggregate numbers are between 60 or 70 at this point for this year.

It’s especially challenging since the department has a severe shortage of officers.

“I think it speaks to the good work of our officers because even under these demands we’re still arresting people,” said Ferreira.

Defacing someone’s property with graffiti is a felony with person facing jail time and a fine.

About a year ago, Public Works introduced a pilot program to remove and paint over public areas that affect small businesses at no cost to them.

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They never anticipated getting so many calls to the 311 Customer Service Center.

“Where we’re really seeing a difference are the requests coming in for graffiti on private property and that’s up almost 74% so a really big spike there,” explained Gordon of DPW.

Graffiti and the act of tagging will never completely go away but city officials insist there are ways to curtail it through community involvement.

Public Works offers several volunteer programs to clean up neighborhoods.

Another idea is to encourage those who tag to express their art in designated public spaces.

Cervantes, was once a tagger who found a more creative and meaningful way to express his art.

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