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Top complaints by San Franciscans: graffiti, illegal dumping, and waste in streets

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Breakdown of 311 calls reveals our greatest urban pet peeves, in all their gunky glory

A wall in the Mission covered in graffiti tags. Victor Grigas

Real estate site Trulia released a list of the top 311 calls made in San Francisco 2016 to find out what species of urban blight embitters city dwellers the most.

It’s nice when real estate platforms take an active interest in the community, but this time they may be looking a little more closely than we’d like. Here are the top complaint-getters getting everyone’s goat last year:

1. Graffiti: The city fielded nearly 71,000 complaints about tagging, concentrated mostly in Chinatown, SoMa, the Mission, and Outer Mission.

This is perhaps surprising, given that one person’s graffiti is another person’s street art, and San Francisco is generally proud of its long and rebellious mural tradition, even when the work isn’t strictly legal.

But of course, some tags really are just nuisances—and some home and business owners may decidedly not be art lovers.

2. Illegal dumping: Discarded mattresses, couches, and boxes racked up over 67,000 calls, most prominently in Chinatown (again), the Tenderloin. Given the difficulty of getting help with a move, it’s worth wondering who is even putting all of these out there to begin with.

3. Littering: The quintessential big city problem crawled into third, with over 52,600 calls.

4. Hazard waste: And yes, in a perhaps merciful fourth place, over 28,000 people called the city about hazardous materials on the street—feces, needles, and broken glass.

As the City Controller noted last year, that’s a significant upturn—waste complaints, which are generally assumed to be about human waste although the city has not returned calls for clarification on how it determines this (it’s hard to blame them...)—jumped nearly 40 percent last year.

Needle complaints were up 41 percent. Although it’s a less prevalent hassle than graffiti or general untidiness, people tend to pay more attention to waste complaints—and with good reason.

(Note that the Controller’s report covers the fiscal year, while Trulia addressed the calendar year.)

In all, 449,221 311 calls came into the city last year. Compare that to the 349,602 from 2015.

A few important caveats: These data points represent the number of complaints, not the number of violations. The same discarded needle or mattress may elicit many calls.

And as the population continues to rise (by about 11,000-13,000 persons per year), there will not only be more people every year to trash the streets, but there will also be even more people to notice and complain.

That said, it’s basically impossible to put a happy face on a 28.5 percent increase in gripes over 12 months. Mainly because that face is surely holding its nose.

EQRoy / Shutterstock, Inc.