A woman looking at a tag.

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. 

Someone recently tagged the grates along Valencia Street. November 2022

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.

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George Lipp

George Lipp has long lived in the Mission. He’s our volunteer extraordinaire – always out taking photos or running across crimes in progress.

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  1. The worst part of this situation is that city doesn’t even take care of graffiti on the properties they rent. These properties should be spotless or at least we should be able to fine the city for the same offenses. I can share multiple locations the city is responsible where they don’t give a dam about the graffiti they obviously see. What a backwards city. And yes the city should step up and start going after the taggers to have them paint over the graffiti / seems like a large willing bunch of people who should see the pain they cause. I was told by the city the actually dismantled the agency to go after taggers / now that’s totally ridiculous. PLEASE HELP

  2. George, you are much too moderate . It goes without saying that graffiti is an ugly blight, but without taxpayer resources in the ordinance to prevent or mitigate this type of vandalism, it’s probably unconstitutional as it stands. Isn’t this common sense? It’s unreasonable to expect people to police the sidewalks in front of residences.

  3. This is infuriating!!
    We spend m(b)illions of dollars in this city on crooked politicians and their schemes (hello China Town subway) but our elderly and unhoused citizenry are the ones that are getting kicked out of their homes or fined into poverty.
    I’ve never been so ashamed to be a native in this town.
    Kids express themselves. Back in the day of a kid got caught tagging he and his friends were charged with a misdemeanor and given brushes and soap. Let them clean up their mess! Don’t just throw them in jail, with our broken bail system, unending court dates and interminable stays in juvie.
    Give them the opportunity to learn an and grow, to be of service. See how their good actions can be rewarded with some kick ass banana bread!

  4. When the Sheriff’s and Police are Organized Crime Gang Members then Tagging a Public Sidewalk becomes a Line of Self-Defense. My Opinion is the City can Remove the Tag if the Tag is Offensive to the Public. Otherwise is Criminal Suppression of Free Public Speech. MahdiCain.

    1. It is not free, it is wrecking someone’s property. They could post bill boards or do it on paper if they can afford the paint. They can freely provide their labor to scrub the stuff.

  5. Dude the banana bread is a memory not forgotten…
    City needs to step in money for trans sexual????
    Help the elderly who have paid into the system all their lives like me…instead we huddle around the BS and people who squeeze our resources without contributing…

  6. the tag says jazman
    but really, the taggers are not at fault for the city’s failure to really address any of the real drug addiction, homelessness, and theft that goes on day after day. they’re just choosing the easy way out, targeting low hanging fruit, and turning the public’s frustration at an unwinnable situation into resentment towards eachother. the city doesn’t have to do anything but line it’s pockets and take care of it’s politicians. to give genuine concern to the people and start to fix the unsustainable systems that caused this mess in the first place is to step out of line. at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter because all of this was inevitable anyways. we’re just kinda here to experience the collapse, and pray to god the pain will pass quickly so we can move on and rebuild better, learning from our mistakes.

  7. Sure looks like the city government picks on the citizens that could use a little help, not harrassment. They don’t do squat about they problems homekess druggies cause but pick on innocent senior citizens.

  8. If they are targeting elderly folks and levying fines it could be a ploy that leads to them losing their homes due to unpaid fines. HOAs do it maybe the city has decided it’s a good way to generate income.

  9. Seriously, going after a 90 year old woman? How about the graffiti on Geary Blvd? The Dragon beaux parklet is COVERED in graffiti. it’s an EYESORE

  10. The city needs to pass law to criminalize vandalism and put serious repeated offenders in fail. Period.

  11. We now live in a Alice and wonderland world run by vermin And rats better known as politicians and bureaucrats and city workers. All I have to say is good luck San Francisco because you’re going to need it.

  12. Thank you for helping. My love for our city has been challenged .You are part of a solution our community needs.I pray that a higher power shines down on you and your loved ones

  13. Thank you sir for restoring my faith in humanity this morning. It’s truly a gift that your doing.

  14. Well we have a few choices for dealing with this logic devoid of rational thinking. 1. We form Posse’s and patrol our neighborhoods our selves and no longer rely on those sworn to uphold the law. Street justice is a language they speak fluently. 2. Stop electing “woke” city policy makers who care more for the criminals, rather than up standing tax payers. 3. Protest unjust “passing the buck” ordinances. So what the rule is: somebody does graphite on the sidewalk in front of your place and you are on the hook for fines and removal? That would be like during the golden gate Bridge because somebody jumped off it. It’s their bridge you are responsible then for every life lost. Or maybe we should sue Jack Daniels every time someone dies from drunk driving. See how out of touch that is? What about when they painted BLACK LIVES MATTER on Fulton the with of the street!? Everybody in those apartments gotta pay? I see r.v. people with close to 60 stolen bikes. Cops do NOTHING! They work for us remember?!

    1. It’s just more of lazy bureaucrats picking an easy target so they can pretend to be working. Fire them all and start over. Time to remind the bureaucratic slime they work for us, we don’t work for them.

  15. Does it now mean that a chalk -drawn hopscotch is no longer tolerated? Let’s hope not.
    It could be said that the police is responsible for not doing their job, but we all know that to be true. The city should work with homeowners not find them.
    But kudos to you for helping your elderly neighbor and snag a banana bread in the process.
    We all need neighbors like you.

  16. That is a laugh considering how the law ignores acts of outright aggression. What does the law consider people who flaunt the law by ignoring traffic laws and stopping traffic? How does the law view shoplifting, selling and injecting drugs on pubic sidewalks. How much effort does the law apply to stopping people from breaking into cars and homes instead of tagging them?

    Why are victims of tagging being turned into criminals instead of being protected? Victims of tagging are not criminals they are victims of crime, if one considers tagging a crime. Charging the victims is insane like much of the laws that we are dealing with these days. A better solution would be to encourage art on the sidewalk. If they can do that on JFK they can do that on the sidewalks.

    Public Works Article Section 230 needs to be rewritten or eliminated. Let’s see an effort by the government to police itself. Where is City Hall’s plan that describes how the city of SF will foster “a sense of respect for the law that results in an a decrease in crime and degradation of the community”?

  17. That’s such a sleazy thing for the city to do. There are so many things wrong with the city by the bay. This is just one of them. Taking advantage of little old ladies. Shameful. How dare they? They can’t even stand up to crime-promoting taggers, let alone the homeless & druggies who are polluting & ruining the city? What pansies. So much for progressive policies.

    1. I live on Social Security. Believe me, I am not a millionaire but just because my home is very valuable, doesn’t mean I have millions to spend. I bought a home forty years ago in a neighborhood that wasn’t very desirable. But it was a home for my family. And we raised our kids, paid our taxes and tried to be good neighbors. Are you saying that even though we’re the victims of this act, we should just suck it up and pay these outrageous fines?

  18. thank you for assisting our neighbors. paint is near impossible to remove from concrete. great work ⭐ blessings to you

  19. Tagging is vandalism. It degrades street art, architecture, infrastructure. It damages the appeal of shopping and dining areas making everything feel rundown and uncared for. Remember when Sister Act paid the people of Noe to degrade their neighborhood for the movie then paid to clean it up? We finally are living the 90’s dystopia without the happy last song. Who thinks this is art???

  20. Let’s sue the City for their hypocrisy. They do not arrend to their own properties and contribute to URBAN plight. Look at Haight St. Close to my job that the city owns that’s got 10 Tags and Garbage and they were threatened to be sued by the Neighbors and cleaned the Property and now it’s disgusting to even work there and glass in the parking lots has given me 2 flat tires at Work. Perhaps I will sue the City for this. Hmmmm

  21. I work for the City and The City does not attend to or clean their own properties. Let’s do a story. I can show You valuable City owned property that the city doesn’t clean. Taggers ruin property and must do time for the crime. And they are also dangerous when working together. San Francisco is so full of their liberal shit its pathetic. I will take you to a city property with about 10 Tags and Garbage Everwhere. Tim Trygg timothypoetry@hotmail.com.

  22. I quote your quote:
    “ 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.”

    Can’t this same rationale be used to sue the city of San Francisco for enacting pro-drug and pro-crime laws which seem to promote disregard for federal laws which essentially also say laws can be disregarded with impunity? At least this is the perception of anyone living outside San Francisco, and many living inside who are forced to witness drug abuse on their streets on a daily basis. The hypocrisy here is unreal.

  23. Meanwhile here in civic center we have drug users throwing trash everywhere and blow torching our parking meters. This fine is just another “broken windows” type law that doesn’t work and continues to punish tax paying citizens.

    1. True “broken windows” laws target the window breakers, not the window owners. Don’t confuse this bureaucratic hypocrisy with the true broken windows philosophy that advocates stopping crime & criminals where they start — small

  24. This is stupid …

    For six months I’ve tried to get graffiti adjacent to an elementary school painted over. As far as I can tell, each of my 311 requests is still officially open. When I called to make yet another request a couple of months ago, the 311 dispatcher told me the city wasn’t enforcing the no-graffiti ordinance because of Covid. He couldn’t explain why I had just seen multiple violation notices posted nearby, albeit in “posher” sections of the city.

    While the city goes nuts over sidewalk graffiti, and blames the property owner for it, they do nothing to undo the tire marks from sideshow related donuts at intersections in multiple neighborhoods. I can’t really imagine that a bit of spray paint is more disturbing or likely to lead to the utter demise of the city. Nor do I think tire marks in the street will accomplish what sidewalk paint cannot. But it does seem that tire marks visible in images provided by your choice of satellite image services aren’t probably at least a little bit more “dangerous.”

  25. Lavarmatic at 25th and Bryant has acid tags over every single window for over 5 years now. Multiple complaints to 311 and nothing is done, yet they bother a 93 year old for a tag on the sidewalk? I think someone working for the city is making these complaints disappear for them. Seriously.Lavarmatic is blight. Maybe if someone poops on the tag and she calls 311 the city will power wash it away. That’s a SF solution for you

  26. Another City attempt to switch their responsibility to the residents. While everyone should pitch in and help keep the city’s atmosphere ambient, citing individuals who may not be physically able is no way to achieve the goal. Selective enforcement is obvious. Is anyone having property on 6th Street being cited? If they are, there is certainly no enforcement in THAT neighborhood.

  27. Last month I visited SF from Europe. One observes that the city is truly and actually supporting blight in the form of encampments and pro-public-mental-illness. So… it’s rather curious that the city would lean on homeowners as the cause of blight. Your city has a general feeling of blight. Out of shock I took so many pictures. One feels the need to document such cruelty.

    I conclude that SF itself is addicted to homelessness and addicted to the public suffering. At some level SF enjoys the public suffering,… like Münchhausen by proxy.

    Shame on you for so eagerly propping up the cruel fates of these people and aiding in their utter indignity. What SF calls assisting dignity!!

    I conclude SF is the place for cruel narcissists to live in panoramic vistas.

    1. I appreciate your comment as it is a precise statement of the shity by the bay aka SF. I am a native San Franciscan and while many a San Franciscan might want to tell you that SF was a great place to live in years past, I can attest that it never was really so. Perhaps the homeless problem was less pronounced in the 80s and 90s, blight was not just prevalent around city hall, the tenderloin, civic center, hunters point, Potrero hill, etc., It was overwhelming in fact it was the way of life for us San Franciscans. I have never and I mean it when I say it, understood the appeal that a shity place like San Francisco has . Why do so many people want to visit this shity and depressing place with possibly the most corrupt bureaucracy in the planet -not exaggerating here, just look at the annual budget and ask yourself why does a city with such a massive budget 13.5 billion with a B, is so run down. Take the annual budget for homelessness 1.2 billion again with a B. Which begs the question where does all money go because it does not seem to go toward solving the issue if homeless. You see is not only narcissist as you out it who live here but greedy and morally bankrupt people who benefit financially from all this blight and dysfunction. The vistas create a sort of illusion that attempts to negate the truth of this city. Hopefully the next time you vacation in a place that is the opposite of SF the shity by the bay.

    2. Well said !! I visit this city often and notice the blight all around !! This city is indeed “addicted “to homelessness, noise, drugs and crudeness ! It used to be a truly beautiful place to visit decades ago ! It is indeed tragic that the homeowners are punished for the dirt and filth !! The mayor and her “ crew” has a lot to answer !!

  28. Practically guaranteed @jazman44 will see this article and think twice placing his next tag. This is not how he wants to be recognized.

  29. When I was a new homeowner, I received a notice that I had three days to remove the grass from my sidewalk or face $1000 a day fines. My husband was in Europe, I had the flu, and I had no idea how to remove the grass.
    My neighbor found me sitting on the sidewalk, crying, while chipping away at the grass with a dull screwdriver. He brought over his sidewalk cleaning tool and had the job done in moments. I have always remembered his kindness.
    I also have always remembered the sheer terror of receiving that notice – instigated by an anonymous complaint.
    Thank you for helping you neighbor and for pointing out that our city could do better.

  30. We pay our taxes to the city and the first responsibility of the city is public safety. Maybe just Maybe it’s time to switch things up and make enforcement of these “victimless” crimes priority of police. Actual jail time and forced restitution wol be a good start. To everyone who says that the criminal doesn’t “learn” anything from incarceration thattoo bad at least for some time innocent people won’t be victims.

  31. Graffiti (tagging) on a Muni bus or bus shelter; who pays?
    Graffiti (tagging) on utility poles; who pays?
    Graffiti on schools or any public building; who pays?
    When someone “tags” the sidewalk in front of your home?

    Each time, you pay.

  32. Man, Precita Eyes doing some heavy acrobatics to excuse taggers.

    Maybe if we enact some serious penalties for taggers, like jail time, we’ll get some some relief.

  33. The heading is inaccurate. The city of sf threatens the elderly with fines over graffitti. The city creates the fine and demands the money. Not the people doing graffitti. You re twisting up whos responsible for the fines. The city doesnt have to fine people.

  34. This really sucks. The crew that tickets homeowners for tags on concrete could remediate it themselves. (pressure washer or solvent + goggles & gloves)
    It would be cheaper than giving the ticket & tracking the fine. I speak as a retired painter & a former graffiti abatement volunteer.
    This reminds me of the good old days when the city went around ticketing cracked sidewalks, & homeowners were responsible for the repair. You had to pull a permit, pay for a no parking permit for the parking space in front of your house, & put up a barricaded walkway so pedestrians could go around.
    Scott Wiener fixed this, made city take back responsibility for street trees & sidewalks. I will always vote for him.
    I strongly suggest that if you get such a ticket, call 311 to ask that they abate, also email your supervisor.

  35. Those are not tags on the calavera street tree grates, they are red Xs over the calaveras, as in censorious negation.

  36. The city wants to fine the property owners for graffiti, but yet the city can’t control it. This is one way where the city collects revenue and not that responsibility for something they can’t control
    . Add this to everything else in the city, homeless, drug use, and crime. Etc….

  37. This city is a complete joke. Fining residents for scribbles of untalented “artists”. Then again we can’t enforced any punishment on these individuals bc that would be discriminatory…

  38. Good job helping out your neighbors, they’re lucky to have you as a neighbor.

    The police dept should be responsible for cleaning up tagging — or the funds for it should at least come out of their budgets. It’s unfair to burden individual property owners further for crimes that are committed against them.

    Maybe if it impacted the police or DA they would actually do something to prevent the graffiti. Property owners don’t have any ability to stop this.

      1. Great question. Because the city has no willpower.
        Why not take the $600.00 given monthly
        To each squatter from the GENERAL FUND and use to clean the trash and graffiti off the sidewalks.

        1. “Why not take the $600.00 given monthly To [sic] each squatter from the GENERAL FUND”

          Uh huh. So how many squatters do you believe receive $600 monthly checks from the San Francisco General Fund, again?

      2. That part! The home owner has to repair the sidewalks so fetynol junkers can have a clean lot to poop on. When does our government and or police do their job? Perhaps I’m seeing it wrong and their job is to squeeze any fines they can from the home owners/ civilians? In which case, keep up the good work ticks, I mean city government/ police.