Department of Public Works

In the late Summer of 2012, a group of communityleaders came together in the Outer Sunset, also known as “La Playa”, neighborhood.  Comprised of a diverse group of folks such as merchants, neighborhood emergency response team members, neighborhood watch members, environmental and transportation advocates, the group determined that while the neighborhood has seen many improvements over time, there was still a for a stronger sense of community amongst the many diverse communities which reside in the area.

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The group determined that the best way to bring folks together was to identify a project that would appeal to the largest portion of residents despite their social background.  The group ultimately selected the challenge of beautifying the area best known as the N Judah Turnaround.

Thus the N Judah Turnaround Beautification Project was born and a diverse stakeholders from both within and outside the community was convened to support, and participate, in a results oriented conversation regarding ways to enhance the physical, and cultural, environment in and around the N Judah Turnaround.  The program team ultimately included:

  • The La Playa Neighborhood Association
  • The La Playa Neighborhood Watch
  • The Judah Merchant Association
  • The Outer Sunset NERT
  • The Office of Supervisor Carmen Chu
  • The City Administrator’s Office
  • The Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services
  • The San Francisco Planning Department
  • The Department of Public Works
  • The Metropolitan Transportation Administration
  • The City Hall Fellows
  • Neighborland and Crowdbrite
The phases of the outreach plan were:

  1. Raise Awareness of the Program
  2. Generate Ideas and Prioritize
  3. Convene in a Structured Process to Finalize Action Plan
  4. Implement

1. Awareness Phase – The project team partnered with local ideation company Neighborland to publicize the conversation going on regarding the beautification of the N Judah and the need for everyone’s input.  Posters were displayed strategically throughout the community educating residents about the upcoming idea capture event at the local coffee shop as well as about the opportunity to text in their ideas directly to Neighborland at any time.  The project team also created a website that became the online hub for the program.

2. Ideas and Prioritization Phase – On a Saturday, November 18th the project team and Neighborland convened in front of the Java Beach Coffee Shop and set up a large billboard that allowed people to answer the question “I want BLANK at the N Judah Turnaround”.  For four hours residents gathered around the billboard and shared their ideas, goals and dreams for an area long considered a let down by the people who visited there every day.  The Neighborhood Empowerment Network media team captured the activities on video.

The ideas captured in person were then transcribed up on the Neighborland site dedicated to this project and residents have been voting on which ones they feel are the most important.


3. Convene in a Structured Process to Finalize Action Plan – The next phase of the project occurred on Saturday, December 15th where residents convened at a local elementary school auditorium and conduct a traditional neighborhood planning session using the innovative methods of Crowdbrite, a locally owned company which is revolutionizing how communities discuss land use opportunities.

4. Implement – Once the community planning and prioritization process has ended the projects will be evaluated for possible funding and implementation by the agencies responsible for that project area.

As of the drafting of this blog, the project was entering into phase three of its engagement plan.  The community has been thrilled by its experience to date and is eager to move to the next step in the process and find out what the final strategy will be for the Turnaround.  We encourage all Outer Sunset community members to attend the Community-Led Workshop in Saturday, December 15th at 10am at the Francis Scott Key Elementary Auditorium located at 1530 43rd Ave. at Kirkham.

For more information – visit www.njudahproject .org


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Simple steps to follow when you spot a makeshift, illegally posted sign in your neighborhood

By Mohammed Nuru (@MrCleanSF)


Homemade, handmade, and hastily posted signs posted all over the City contribute to blight, distract from the natural beauty of the neighborhoods, and are illegal. I encourage you to act now with this simple solution: rip ‘em down and recycle ‘em as you see them.

Standing at a bus stop and see a garage sale sign taped to the glass? Eye a flyer stapled to the utility pole? Rip it down

and recycle it. Easy as that.

As I travel around the City, I marvel at each of the distinctive and beautiful neighborhoods that are truly the characterand foundation of our world-renowned urban habitat. The historic public art, innovative urban designs and creative use of space sets apart San Francisco neighborhoods as hotspots for pride, personality and livability.

The perpetual plastering of stapled and taped-up postings and temporary, DIY flyers leads to chaos and a kind of lawlessness that is degradation to the community.

Yes, there are official guidelines and restrictions for posting signs on public property: where they can be posted and how. How many have taken the time to study these rules? And imagine the resources involved in monitoring each utility pole. Think of how much time it would take for a crew to seek out every flyer, dispose of it and hold the posting party in question accountable.

That’s why I ask you to join in on being a part of the solution: rip the posters down and recycle them whenever you see them. And when you observe an illegally posted sign repeatedly and if it is a chronic offender, report it to 311.

The sign-posting requirements were established to reduce litter and blight and minimize obstruction to ensure safety.


Quick guide to the rules:

  • Signs must not be larger than a standard piece of paper.
  • You can’t use tape or string.
  • The sign can’t be placed higher than 12 feet from the ground.
  • It MUST have the posting date, and
  • MUST be removed within ten days after an event or election date.

Public Works has the authority to remove prohibited signs and administer penalties of up to $500 for chronic offenders. If DPW sees the same sign over and over, then crews will seek to hold the person or company posting the signs accountable.

On top of reporting and removing signs, you can also help by promoting alternatives to the posters. Utilize other methods of getting information out to your neighbors. Quick and easy ideas include using Craigslist; neighborhood social media accounts and blogs (like Haighteration and Ocean Beach Bulletin), and even innovative Smartphone apps (like Blockboard for the Mission). Tell others how to access these tools and encourage community members to incorporate them in neighborhood communications.

If you are interested in getting a FREE scraping tool from DPW, all you need to do is sign up for Adopt-a-Street. It takes a second. Email and write “I want to pull down and scrape off illegally posted signs in my neighborhood”.

There are several groups of concerned residents who are a part of the movement to keep the City free of illegal postings. They are fed up with garage sale signs flapping in the wind, tired of carelessly posted campaigns signs and outdated event posters, and sick of the taped-up, hand-drawn flyers that are just plain unsightly to look at. These residents are leading by example: when they see ‘em, they pull ‘em down.

I invite you to do the same.

Mohammed Nuru

Interim Director, Department of Public Works


If you have any good ideas to help with this issue, send a tweet to @MrCleanSF.

Mohammed Nuru, Deputy Director for Operations, SF Dept of Public Works

Every month the Department of Public Works (DPW) dives into each of the eleven Supervisorial Districts around San Francisco to rally volunteers and partners to make San Francisco residential districts, commercial districts, schools, and parks safer and cleaner through our Community Clean Team program.

Arbor Day – March 12, 2011

Created over 10 years ago, by then Public Works Director, San Francisco’s current Mayor, Ed Lee, Community Clean Team has become a mainstay in the DPW’s operations.

This year we brought the Community Clean Team in with a bang at the Ping Yuen Housing Development on February 12th where we celebrated the Clean Team kick off and Chinese New Year with fireworks and Lion Dancers; volunteers helped with landscaping projects, school improvements and even repainted the Broadway Tunnel.  In March, we celebrated Arbor Day at Washington High School in the Richmond District where we planted dozens of trees along Geary Boulevard, and in April we worked in and around the Tenderloin and South of Market cleaning up trash, and removing graffiti in honor of Earth Day.  In between those Community Clean Team events, we’ve hosted special events with volunteer partners from all around San Francisco and the greater Bay Area – our partnership with Starbucks’ Global Month of Service event helped us clear over 60,000 pounds of green waste from the Great Highway, and plant over 500 plants.

Since February, over 3,000 volunteers rolled up their sleeves and dedicated at-least three hours to work side by side with Department of Public Works employees. Volunteers help leverage the city’s resources tremendously; DPW employees alone cannot complete the amount of work our volunteers complete.  And during these challenging economic times, utilizing volunteers has become one of the most cost-effective ways to accomplish our work.

Over the past three months, our 3,000 plus volunteers contributed at-least 9,000 hours of community service to the Department of Public Works, totaling $270,000.00 worth of labor.  I can comfortably state The Department of Public Works San Francisco works more with volunteers than any other Public Works organization in the nation.

Help us continue our momentum by volunteering for the Community Clean Team May 21st in honor of National Public Works Week at Balboa High School beginning at 9am.  For more information email us at

Along with Mayor Lee, all our volunteers, our key partners like Recology, PG&E, Walgreens, Luxor Cab Company, Clean City Coalition, the Academy of Art University, Starbucks, Hilton-Financial District, and the Emerald Fund help sustain the program.

Thank you to all our partners, all who have volunteered, and all who will volunteer.  Together we have and will continue to make a difference in San Francisco.

Mohammed Nuru is Deputy Director for Operations at the San Francisco Department of Public Works (SFDPW).  Follow him on twitter @MrCleanSF

Starbucks Event 4/9/11


Michael Pawluk –  San Francisco – 1/19/11 

For both merchants and residents alike, maintaining a clean and aesthetically pleasing community is difficult enough without worrying about the constant blight of graffiti and vandalism. Community groups and city agencies spend thousands of dollars every year in order to help fight the barrage of spray painted tags and doodles strewn throughout the city.

In order to help push back this unsightly trend, the San Francisco Arts Commission and the Department Of Public Works has started StreetSmARTS, a community program designed to connect merchants and local artists in order to plan and implement standing murals in public space. The program itself aims to pair wanting merchants faced with constant graffiti problems with respected community artists, approved by the SF Arts Commission, who will then design a mural and decide on a final layout with the land owner. By connecting merchants and artists, the SF Arts Commission is ensuring that local muralists have a venue for their work and the merchants can enjoy their property with a consistent theme and worry less about unwanted décor on their establishment.

In short, the program aims to fight fire with fire. It has been proven in the past that even though people may assume that the individuals responsible for most tagging are working out of disrespect for their community, time has shown again and again that large established art pieces can help to curb the unsightly recurrence of wanton graffiti.

One example of this is the Clarion Alley mural project in the Mission District which has established this once small dismal, graffiti laden alley into somewhat of a tourist attraction for the neighborhood.

Though the alley has a small group of resident who help to maintain it, the dozens of murals and pieces there remain largely untouched by random acts of tagging because the budding artists who would typically just scrawl their name across the wall maintain a certain level of respect for the large pieces of work that is already in place.

This preexisting level of respect within the art community is what the SF Arts Commission has utilized in order to make the StreetSmARTS program a success. Having already contracted dozens of murals throughout the city, most notably on Central Market, the SF Arts Commission hopes to make this year bigger than the last. If you or someone you know wants to become involved or has had trouble with graffiti in the past please visit theStreetSmARTS website for more information.


SF Arts Commission: StreetSmARTS

Tired of buffing out unwanted graffiti? The San Francisco Arts Commission and the Department of Public Works may have an answer for you: StreetSmARTS. Studies have shown that mural-painted walls incur far less tagging than blank walls. The StreetSmARTS program provides vetted artists for you to select from who will paint a mural on your wall with a design that is approved by YOU. For more information on how to get involved, click here.

Studies have shown that mural-painted walls incur far less tagging than blank walls. The StreetSmARTS program provides vetted artists for you to select from who will paint a mural on your wall with a design that is approved by YOU. For examples of walls painted in our 2010 pilot year, please click here.

To participate in StreetSmARTS, you simply need to provide the funds for supplies (approximately $1,500). With the reduction in graffiti abatement, you will see a return on your investment in no time. Interested property owners should contact Tyra Fennell at 415-252-2597 or


Mr. Clean SF, Mohammed Nuru, Deputy Director for Operations, DPW

This Sunday I want to personally invite you to join in on the exciting return of our hugely successful Mobile Free Wall Activity. Rain or shine, the San Francisco Arts Commission with support from the Department of Public Works is set to assemble a 40 foot-long temporary wall that will act as a giant canvas for artists of all skill levels to drop by and be a part of creating a beautiful community mural.

It’ll be on Sunday, October 24th during the Sunday Streets event outside of City Hall on the Civic Center plaza from 10am to 3pm.

What is the Free Wall? Our mission at DPW is to keep this City beautiful, livable, and vibrant. A large portion of my job is the prevention and eradication of graffiti vandalism. DPW responds to over 30,000 requests to clean up graffiti each year. That’s over 100 a day on public property alone. Collectively all City departments, schools, residents, and small business owners pay out over $20 million a year cleaning up tagging and vandalism.

This Free Wall is a pilot project to give urban artists, who historically claim that there is no public space to create spray-can art, a safe location to do just that.

Here are the key tenets of this venture: 

  • This is a recognition that it is important to give young artists a place to create


  • There should be an emphasis on respect for public property


  • The Free Wall project and all of the DPW collaborations with the SFAC stress that the difference between art and vandalism is permission


  • Helping to engage the artist community in new ways results in a meaningful dialogue about keeping the City beautiful.


This Free Wall is, if anything, promoting the conversation about “what is art” and “what is vandalism?” What are the most efficient strategies to eliminate the vandalism and keep the city shinning and clean?

Hundreds participated in the activity in September that resulted in a beautiful community mural being created in less than four hours. World-renowned urban artist, Chor Boogie, oversees and facilitates the Free Wall Activities, providing his know-how and tutorials on spray-can art.

The success of the Free Wall program is the result of leveraging the expertise of the Graffiti Advisory Board and the San Francisco Arts Commission. Their passion and leadership are making innovative, engaging projects like this work.

The Director of Cultural Affairs for the San Francisco Arts Commission Luis R. Cancel agrees. “The Free Wall Activity provides urban and aspiring artists with an opportunity to show their talent and creativity in a safe and legal manner. This program is a way of bringing urban artists and community members together to forge lasting, positive relationships that benefit our neighborhoods.”

The Free Wall capitalizes on the positive results and feedback from other SFAC-DPW collaborations like the StreetSmARTs program, which pairs urban artists with private property owners to create vibrant murals throughout the City. The first private-property mural of this fiscal year was unveiled last week at 1354 York Street. There are plans to create more than 20 murals through this program this year.


There is a lot of work to do to keep the City clean and to prevent and abate graffiti vandalism. I invite you to be a part of it of this movement. Come out on Sunday and see what the buzz is all about.

At a minimum, please check out and sign the Zero Graffiti Pledge, a City-wide commitment to abate and report graffiti.

I would love to get your feedback about the Free Wall. Send comments to, or you can tweet me with any questions @MrCleanSF<>.


Mohammed Nuru is Deputy Director for Operations at the San Francisco Department of Public Works (SFDPW).


Julia Brashares, Land Steward Manager, San Francisco Parks Trust

Looking for a place to dig in and get dirty in San Francisco?

Perhaps you’re like many other San Franciscans – you’ve been musing over how you’d like to start a garden and get back in touch with nature, slow down a little.  You’ve checked out the nearest plot-style community garden that you could find, but found that there’s a long waiting list. Hum, now what?

A program that may be helpful to you is Street Parks. Disused plots like this can become community green spacesis Street Parks. This program, operated by the Department of Public Works (DPW) and the San Francisco Parks Trust (SFPT), enables and assists residents in turning blighted vacant lots into verdant gardens, habitats for wildlife, and recreational spaces.  If you’re looking to garden by yourself, in a quiet place away from everyone, this is not the program for you.  The Street Parks program is for people who love the idea of collective action, of working together as a community to create something beautiful that wasn’t there before.

Disused plots like this can become community green spaces

So how do I tap in and get a garden site, you may ask? The process is fairly straightforward – the first step is to locate a vacant parcel of land in your neighborhood – it might be a median, triangle, area along a public stairway, or parcel at a road’s dead end. Next, you’d complete a Street Parks application – this enrolls you in the Street Parks program and designates you as the primary land steward. Your registration also puts you in touch with valuable resources and expertise that can help you in creating your dream garden oasis.

The next step is to hold community meetings and create a collective vision for a garden that you and your neighbors can all feel excited about.  Once you’ve agreed upon the vision for your garden, you’d submit a site plan to DPW and SFPT for approval.  The review process usually takes about one month.  After you receive final approval, you’re free to start digging and planting!

Annie Shaw

There are other details to the process, but rather than focus on that, I’d love to introduce you to Annie Shaw, a powerhouse of a woman.  Annie’s been through the Street Parks process and created Pennsylvania Garden – a slice of garden paradise right at an exit loop of the 280 freeway!  It all started less than 2 years ago, when Annie grew weary of looking at the trashy and dusty circle of land across the street from her apartment. Annie secured the approval and support of Caltrans, DPW, and SFPT and the garden that now is established at the site is a testament to Annie’s powerful drive, imagination, creative vision, ingenuity, and knowledge of horticulture.The disused land pictured above became Pennsylvania Garden

The disused land pictured above became Pennsylvania Garden.


Thanks to Annie and the neighbors she inspired to join her, Pennsylvania Garden is a gorgeous and peaceful place, home to an extraordinary collection of drought tolerant native plants, as well as a variety of birds, butterflies, and salamanders!
You can be the next Annie and create an innovative and beautiful place of your own.  Be on the lookout for future posts with more inspirational profiles of fabulous Street Parks stewards and their gardens.

Julia Brashares is the Land Stewardship Manager at the San Francisco Parks Trust.  She may be reached at

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