Mission Local occasionally publishes letters from community members.
My friend, who is also a neighbor, was recently greeted by a Notice of Violation of SF Public Works Code, the anti-graffiti Article 23. Someone had tagged the sidewalk in front of her home.
She is a 93-year-old retired bookkeeper of humble means who lives on a fixed income. Some 37 years ago, she scraped together enough to buy her home. The notice, and its list of legal liabilities and the remedies it outlined, frightened her.
As a result of a passing tagger’s mark, my neighbor was now liable for fines, some of which could amount to $1,000 a day. She was not alone; several of her elderly neighbors and friends had gotten the same notice.
A 93-year-old is a victim of crime, but must pay up. It didn’t seem fair.
I looked into the details. Owning a piece of property includes ownership of the sidewalk to the curb. Each property owner is responsible for maintaining its safety. The city has the unlimited right of way and control of the passageway, except for damage caused by city-managed trees.
Graffiti isn’t a direct threat to health and safety. I mean, no one has ever tripped over a spray-painted sidewalk. The riddle is brought into play by the secondary effect of what is considered urban blight.
Curators at Precita Eyes indicated that tagging could come from any number of impulses: Anger, seeking recognition and community, or just being high. Tags are viewed as the first step to being accepted by the larger street-art community.
While tags have meaning to the tagger, it is unclear to the City, and is only an expense to my friend. San Francisco Public Works Article 23, Section 2301a sees them differently. It outlines the rationale behind my neighbor’s citation. Tagging “promotes the perception within the community that the laws protecting public and private property can be disregarded with impunity. This perception fosters a sense of disrespect for the law that results in an increase in crime; degrades the community.”
Wow, that is a mouthful with broad implications. Further, the city has determined that unremedied tags encourage subsequent blight.
Is the city responsible for the general health and safety of the community, or does that rest on the shoulders of a 93-year-old individual living on a fixed income? Issuing violations to property owners and policing those actions is one way to remediate.
Get my friend to find a way to cover the tag. The city does offer free paint, but it is not enough for many. The Department of Public Works’ very active street pressure-washing teams could also be used to clean these locations, a use of my neighbor’s taxes.
The police department arguably has much better things to do with its time than chase taggers. My solution to my neighbor’s plight was to get some paint remover and a wire brush and buff her violation and that of her elderly neighbor. I must tell you, getting spray paint out of concrete is not easy. The cleaning still isn’t complete.
My neighbor said she would reward me with fresh banana bread. I win.