San Francisco Launches Pilot Program to Provide Courtesy Graffiti Abatement in Neighborhood Commercial Corridors

Property owners in neighborhood commercial districts throughout the City whose buildings are tagged with graffiti will now have the option of requesting graffiti abatement at zero cost
November 30, 2022

San Francisco, CA – Mayor London N. Breed today joined Supervisor Myrna Melgar, San Francisco Public Works, and business and community leaders to launch the City’s new courtesy graffiti abatement program for storefronts and other private properties in neighborhood commercial corridors.  

The pilot program will work to relieve participating property owners of the financial burden of removing tags from their buildings, instead allowing professional Public Works crews or City contractors access to wipe out graffiti at zero cost to the effected property and business owners. 

The two-year pilot program was funded in the City’s budget adopted over the summer by the Board of Supervisors and signed by Mayor Breed, with $2 million set aside for the current fiscal year and another $2 million for fiscal year 2023-2024.  

“This program is a win for small businesses and property owners facing the expense of removing unwanted graffiti that create an unwelcoming environment,” Mayor London Breed said. “As San Francisco continues our recovery efforts, it’s critical that we stay focused on keeping our city safe and clean, while also continue to support our small businesses to ensure they thrive. This graffiti abatement program is just one part of that effort but it will really help our neighborhoods and our City.” 

“This is a great example of the City partnering with our communities to improve our neighborhoods,” said District 7 Supervisor Myrna Melgar, who championed the initiative at the Board of Supervisors. “Our small businesses have struggled in recent years and they shouldn’t have to endure the added financial hardship of getting rid of graffiti.”  

Prior to the infusion of extra funding for the two-year pilot to bring aboard a new six-person crew to staff the new operation, Public Works focused solely on removing graffiti from public property, such as sign posts and retaining walls, in the public right of way.  

“We do not want to penalize people, but we do want to make sure graffiti is removed quickly because we know from experience that tags attract more tags and degrade the look and feel of our neighborhoods,” said interim Public Works Director Carla Short. “We welcome this opt-in graffiti abatement program, which gives us additional resources so our crews also can tackle tags on private property in our commercial areas and offer some relief for small businesses still recovering from the pandemic.”  

So far in the current fiscal year, which began July 1, the department issued nearly 900 notices of violation that give property owners 30 days to remove the graffiti. If the deadline is not met, the department can issue a blight notice and charge a $362 inspection fee. If the graffiti still isn’t removed within 15 days after that, Public Works can remove the graffiti and charge the property owner a minimum of $400 for labor and supplies plus up to $1,000 a day in penalties for violating the City’s blight ordinance. Most cases are resolved before fees and fines kick in.  

Under City law, private property owners are responsible for removing graffiti in a timely manner. Public Works inspectors respond to hundreds of graffiti complaints every year lodged through the City’s 311 customer service center. 

“This pilot program will come as welcomed news to our local small businesses who are still struggling to recover from the pandemic,” said Sharky Laguana, President of San Francisco’s Small Business Commission. “Not only will it save our businesses time and money cleaning up, but allowing DPW paint crews to jump into action on their behalf will result in graffiti being removed faster and more efficiently. Other major cities have similar programs, and I am very excited to see San Francisco moving forward in this direction.” 

Property and business owners interested in receiving a courtesy abatement should make a request through the 311 customer service center. The City will focus on removing graffiti that is on the exterior of properties visible from the public right of way. The pilot program will not include the restoration or repair of tagged murals, etched windows and windows defaced with acid. In addition, graffiti on properties that are under construction or being renovated are excluded from the program.  

Additionally, owners must agree in writing not to hold the City liable should any property damage or injuries occur during the abatement operation. Before the work is done, Public Works will confer with the property owner on which graffiti-removal tactic will be most effective, for example, painting over the tags with a closely matching color or removing them with chemical cleansers or power washing.  

During the two-year pilot, Public Works will track whether the level of resources adequately meets the demand and the efficacy of the effort in reducing graffiti so the mayor and supervisors can determine next steps.