Jonathan Curiel, San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, August 3, 2007
Original article with photos
Warm Water Cove is a park on the southern waterfront of San Francisco that doesn't get much traffic from tourists, or even San Franciscans. It does have a devoted group of regulars, however - dog walkers, musicians who enjoy the acoustics, and graffiti artists who have transformed walls into a cacophony of scribblings and images.
It's the graffiti that has led to a battle in the park on the far edge of the Dogpatch neighborhood. The city plans to provide volunteers with buckets and paintbrushes Saturday to whitewash the walls as part of a broader attempt to make the park a cleaner place where someone might want to bring a family. The graffitists' defenders say the cleanup is another attempt to gentrify San Francisco and erase its unique character.
"This is a war," Mohammed Nuru, the Department of Public Works' deputy director for operations, said Thursday as he stood at the cove, near the intersection of Third and 24th streets. "A lot of these (graffiti) tags we see in other San Francisco neighborhoods. I respect art and appreciate art, but this is unacceptable. It's against the law to tag or paint or do anything on anybody's property."
For the past few weeks, the Department of Public Works has been spiffing up the park - putting down new asphalt, clearing tires out of the cove, and painting over some of the graffiti that covers the walls.
New graffiti, however, has returned, and the cove and its grounds are still littered with cans, papers, rusting shopping carts and other refuse. On Saturday, a group of volunteers - with the blessing of Nuru and Public Works - is going to help complete the makeover of Warm Water Cove.
Graffiti advocates are united: The weeds and trash can go. The wall etchings should stay.
"It's a case of naivete," said Brian Barneclo, an artist from Hayes Valley who often bikes to Warm Water Cove. "They think they're doing something right, but they have a narrow point of view."
Graffiti advocates have bombarded Nuru's office with complaints. Some may attend Saturday's cleanup to protest. Many have come by the cove this week, prompted by alerts on artist-oriented Web sites and by word of mouth, to inspect the work that Public Works crews have already done.
Ert O'Hara, who works close to the cove in her job as Web editor for the online art magazine Juxtapoz, called Saturday's cleanup "an inappropriate action."
"I'm not glad they're covering up the artworks," O'Hara said. "I strongly support any environmental cleanup, but I don't think the graffiti is an environmental issue, nor do I think it's a personal safety issue."
Nuru said the graffiti at Warm Water Cove is a blight that illegally defaces property. Some of it is on trees; it's on fences, building walls and picnic tables. By ignoring the spray-painting, he said, the city only encourages taggers to spread their marks to other parts of San Francisco.
The city is planning to put surveillance cameras around the cove to catch the graffiti artists and taggers who visit at all hours of the day and night, Nuru said. "We are going to get these guys."
Saturday's cleanup is being coordinated by Green Connect and other volunteer environmental groups in San Francisco. Among those planning to help is Stephen Antonaros, an architect who lives on Third Street near the cove.
After going online and seeing photos of the graffiti surrounding Warm Water Cove, he initially had second thoughts about joining a team that would paint it over.
"I could see the artistic element looked enticing," Antonaros said. "Some of the stuff is colorful and doesn't seem to be hurting people."
But after visiting the cove and seeing the graffiti for himself - and after seeing the recent additions, some of which feature such phrases as "addicted to crime" - Antonaros recommitted himself to Saturday's cleanup.
Antonaros has also seen remnants of drug use at the cove.
"It's really a place where junkies and homeless people have congregated," he said. "It's quite messy. The graffiti is out of the way - it's not public-presentation art. It's really quite lost and inaccessible."
It's the cove's inaccessibility - its off-the-beaten-path location that, nevertheless, offers stunning views of the bay and the East Bay hills - that helps give the graffiti there a special appeal, say those who want the spray-paintings to stay.
Clayton Blaha, 22, a music analyst for a music Web site whose offices are near the area, visited the cove Thursday, while Nuru was there, and hinted that he had contributed to its array of colorful markings. Blaha said the sprayed images were real art, like the images that once graced the Berlin Wall and today are valued work.
Standing near a wall at the cove that was freshly painted and graffiti-free two months ago - but is now full of spray-painted symbols, sayings and images - Blaha said Saturday's anti-graffiti effort was a waste of time, money and resources.
"It's counterproductive," Blaha said. "The things they associate with graffiti - all the social ills like gang violence - are pretty much remedied by having a place for us to do this sort of thing here. It's essentially a playground for those who are interested in street art and art in general. They're shooting themselves in the foot by pushing it farther into the city."
The Warm Water Cove cleanup is scheduled for 9 a.m. Saturday. The park is located near Third and 24th streets on San Francisco's southern waterfront.
E-mail Jonathan Curiel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared on page B - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle