uFixIt: Wiping out graffiti in SF's Tenderloin

February 21, 2012 7:51:14 PM PST
In San Francisco, a man has turned to the ABC7 News I-Team to help wipe out the graffiti that's bringing his neighborhood down. His story is part of uFixIt Week, where we take your complaints to the people in charge and get results.

He lives on the edge of the Tenderloin and says the city is soft on graffiti and he's had enough. He's been calling city officials and complaining for years and when his calls were ignored, he called us, so we jumped in.

The Lower Nob Hill neighborhood sits on the edge of the Tenderloin. It can be rough, but for the optimistic Robert Garcia, it's home, and filled with beauty you may not see.

"Eight square blocks here. We have 293 buildings on the National Registry of Historic Places and look what's happening," he said. What's happening is graffiti, a lot of it. "This is what we have to live with, these sneak thieves coming around in the middle of the night."

Garcia says the neighborhood has become an international destination spot for graffiti vandals. Some buildings get tagged over and over again. In one case, a vandal defiantly threw a paint-covered sponge around the block, up high, where the building's owner can't reach it.

"That's more than anybody should have to put up with," Garcia said. "There should be some responsibility by the city to control this."

Cleaning up is a hardship for struggling businesses. Scotty Kharsa runs a U-Haul rental in the area, but he could be out of business soon. The company's vans are an easy target for taggers. "The U-Haul company actually threatened to take our business away from us if we can't keep up with our graffiti problem on our neighborhood," he explained.

One solution the city's come up with is a mural project. It's paid for by the San Francisco Department of Public Works and implemented by the Arts Commission. The theory is one street artist respects another and won't deface the mural. "So far, out of the 30 that we have, I've only heard of five being tagged," Tyra Frenel with the Arts Commission said. "So, it's a very low rate of tagging. Once a mural is up, generally, people respect the mural."

The Arts commission will review the 3-year-old project this summer and decide if it's working. Garcia says it isn't. One painting on a bookstore started as a city project mural, but the bookstore's owner liked it so much she paid the artist thousands to cover her entire store hoping taggers would stay away.

They didn't. Garcia says he doesn't want murals. He wants enforcement. "They really need to step up and protect this historic district and stop this nonsense," he told the I-Team. "This is not art, not even close."

Now, enforcement is what he'll get. After we contacted the San Franciso Police Department, we heard from Officer Marty Ferreira. He's the graffiti abatement officer and he's taking Robert's complaints seriously. "This is absolutely not a victimless crime," he said. "I feel for him. I understand that it's a quality of life issue and he's right. It affects us all."

Ferreira is the only officer on the graffiti beat in San Francisco, but he says he volunteered for the job last summer and thinks he can make a difference. "And, I would welcome a conversation with him so we can try and solve the problem," he said referring to Garcia. "If they keep an open line with the police, we're willing to come in and make arrests and investigate and follow up, but we need victims who are willing to come forward."

In this case, that won't be a problem. Garcia's just been waiting for the chance. "Our number one industry is tourism, and people come here and they marvel at all these beautiful brick buildings, and whets happening to them? They're all being painted out," he said.

We will be watching to see if the San Francisco Police Department can get a grip on the graffiti. They make about 170 graffiti vandalism arrests a year, but when we contacted the district attorney's office to find out how many of those arrests end in conviction, they weren't able to give us that number.

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