Graffiti: art or vandalism? San Francisco's struggle

There’s a renewed effort in San Francisco to fight graffiti vandalism following a conference between city officials and the community.

The 2016 Graffiti Huddle was held at the Hilton Hotel in the Financial District on Wednesday. The conference focused on educating the public for graffiti prevention, abating the problem, and prosecuting taggers.

Director of San Francisco Public Works Mohammed Nuru said the city is a destination place for taggers.

“Graffiti taggers are like gangs,” he said. “A lot of people who come here and tag are not from San Francisco. They’re from other cities, some of them as far Europe and Asia.”

Rebecca Delgado-Rottman is a Vice President at the Academy of Art University and sits on the Graffiti Advisory Board in San Francisco. She said there is a difference between graffiti art and graffiti vandalism.

“When you start painting and tagging somebody else’s property that’s vandalism,” she said. “Without someone’s permission, that’s vandalism and punishable by law.”

She said for a decade students at the Academy of Art University have helped fight the blight through the city’s graffiti watch program, by volunteering to clean up.

“Every other Sunday we cover 16 blocks around down and abate graffiti, pick up trash, and clean up,” student Darwin Payton, Jr. said. “Our goal is to touch more people, to get more people involved.”

Nuru said little by little the city is looking much cleaner. SFDPW also pushes for full prosecution of taggers when they’re caught. It’s a way to send a message that there’s a difference between graffiti art and graffiti vandalism.

“At the end of the day we hope for zero graffiti in San Francisco,” Nuru said.

According to Nuru, graffiti costs San Francisco taxpayers more than $20 million each year to clean up.