Tagging and graffiti can once again result in fines on property owners, as the Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to end a year-long amnesty on fines for properties that don’t clean their graffiti off quickly enough.

It was just about a year ago, a scary time when hardly any of us were vaccinated, when the San Francisco unemployment rate was nearly double what it is now, and around half of SF small businesses were still closed, that Supervisor Hillary Ronen proposed legislation to temporarily suspend graffiti fines for property owners whose storefronts were tagged up and spray-painted.  

"First their shops are vandalized, and then the city comes along and hands them a ticket,” Ronen said in a March 2021 press release announcing the legislation in March 2021. “Honestly, it must feel like a slap in the face."

But that slap in the face is now slapping again. Tuesday afternoon, the Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to reinstate the graffiti fines, and end the “suspension of certain provisions of the Graffiti Removal and Abatement Ordinance regarding issuance of certain violations.” Public works can now once again fine property owners between $300 and $500 for graffiti not cleaned up quickly enough.

Tuesday’s vote was the second reading on an original March 22 vote. Many supervisors discussed why they think the time for graffiti fine amnesty is over.

“The purpose of what we were trying to do,” Supervisor Ahsha Safai said at the March 22 board meeting, was “to give businesses and private property owners a break during the pandemic. But unfortunately, there were some unintended consequences that have grown really bad in a lot of areas of the city.”

Safai said property owners knew there wouldn’t be any graffiti fines, and therefore never cleaned it up. “We’ve reached the point where fines need to be reinstated,” he declared at the March 22 meeting.

Supervisor Ronen, even though it was her legislation that forgave the fines, also felt it was time to reinstate fines now that businesses are largely reopened. “At least, at the moment, we’re out of the worst of the pandemic, where businesses are up and operating again,” she said. “I really think this is the right move.”

Small business owners can (and will) argue that this is unfair to them, but fines are actually levied against the property owner, not the small business itself.

“The law that we suspended, and the law that we are reinstating, does not actually have small businesses as a responsible party,” Supervisor Aaron Peskin said last month. “It is actually the property owner under this law that is the responsible party.”

And this distinction may not even matter. The system, whatever you think of it, did pretty much work even before the pandemic. The owners or the business did respond to the Public Works notices and clean up the graffiti in almost all cases.  

“In only 3% of the cases pre-pandemic were fines ever actually assessed,” Peskin pointed out. “97% of the time they do it without actually having to be dragged in for a fine.”

So it is back to the old system where property owners have 30 days to clean graffiti or else face a fine. But any fees that had been waived by Ronen’s previous legislation will remain waived.

Related: Now SF Has a Graffiti Flash Mob; More Than 100 Taggers Coated Mission and 18th Streets Friday Night [SFist]

Image: Joe Kukura, SFist