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sf department of public works

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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 volunteer@sfdpw.org 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 volunteer@sfdpw.org

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


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We Are Growing Home from NENtv on Vimeo.

“Growing Home”, a new community garden located along Octavia Boulevard in the Hayes Valley neighborhood, is a unique collaboration between a surprising assortment of people. Watch this latest NENtv episode to find out who’s involved.

In 2010, NENtv visited Growing Home on the final volunteer work day needed to fully open the garden to discover a rich assortment of views on what a community garden can do for the community.

The video also features Ed Lee in his pre-Mayoral role!

[Also viewable on Youtube here.]



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 tyra.fennell@sfgov.org


The San Francisco Department of Public Works’s Deputy Director, Mohammed Nuru, was awarded the Most Empowering City Employee Award for his dedication to San Francisco’s neighborhoods and years of work in preserving and maintaining San Francisco’s urban space. “Mr. Nuru is the go-to person in the City of SF for infrastructure projects. If you need a fence, sign or bus stop fix, Mr. Nuru can help you get it done,” said SF resident Gillian Gillette. Check out the video below to catch a few words with Mohammed after the ceremony.

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 zerograffiti@sfdpw.org, or you can tweet me with any questions @MrCleanSF<http://twitter.com/mrcleansf>.


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


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NEN Director, Daniel Homsey

On Saturday, July 17th my son Ajaccio and I packed up his Elmo Doll and headed out to watch a community empower itself. Were we heading out to a protest about a planning issue? No. We were going to put on gloves, don the classic orange DPW vest, grab a broom, and work side by side with the neighbors at the third “Pick Up in Polk” event (see photos from the event here).

We pulled up to the staging area and were greeted by an enthusiastic crowd (or rather Ajaccio was). There, community leaders Dawn and Frank of the Middle Polk Neighborhood Association (hear Dawn’s NENfm podcast interview about Middle Polk and the Pick Up on Polk event here) checked people in and assigned them locations along the corridor to work. Next, they trained people on how to properly pick up refuse, handed them a bottle of water, and sent them on their way.

It was a well-oiled machine.

The same thing was happening up and down the whole Polk Street corridor with the folks from Upper and Lower Polk getting suited up and rolling up their sleeves and getting to work as well.

Sometimes, it’s hard to understand why anyone shows up at all. It’s early Saturday morning, it’s chilly out and people are often cleaning up after the late night crowd from the previous day. But volunteers show such zeal and appear to relish the opportunity. In fact the most common complaint was “Someone has already cleaned the area I was assigned – give me a new one!”

Left to Right: Frank, Daniel and AJ, and Dawn

I asked Dawn and Frank why they thought folks seemed so happy to be out doing this kind of work on a Saturday. Dawn shared with me that it’s one of the few ways people get to meet each other and to build relationships with those around them. Frank also pointed out that there is immediate satisfaction for participants to see how they can in just a few short hours make a huge impact on the way their community looks.

In addition to the neighborhood association members and local residents were representatives from the local Walgreens and Wells Fargo branch. Whole Foods kicked in beverages and DPW and its world class crew was doing a first rate job of collecting all of the bags of trash piling up on the curbs.

For a NEN person like me – it was a beautiful thing.

After an hour dressed in a bright orange vest and working man gloves and pushing a broom around, Ajaccio was ready for a nap. So we packed up Elmo and drove off. I saw a group of folks sitting down for a well deserved lunch, laughing and sharing stories about the random things they found during their morning.

You’d think they just won a huge planning decision.

Daniel Homsey is Director of the Neighborhood Empowerment Network. He can be contacted at daniel.homsey@sfgov.org.


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