Scott Thompson, automotive painter for San Francisco's Central Shops, works on one of the five graffiti-ridden trucks that public works has repainted. Photos: San Francisco Department of Public Works

Taggers come from all over the world to use virtually any surface in San Francisco as their canvas. The city fights back heroically, investing $20 million annually to teach residents and business owners how to clean up after vandals and thwart unsanctioned artistic displays.

Now the San Francisco Department of Public Works is testing a program aimed specifically at commercial vehicles. Many small-business owners park their trucks outside their homes on the streets, inadvertently providing vandals with a clean, white canvas. To reduce complaints from neighbors, the department is repainting 15 such trucks for free.

To qualify for the program, owners must show proof of San Francisco registration for two years and agree to keep the vehicle graffiti-free for a year. They drop off the vehicle for the weekend and, when they return, receive a supply of touch-up paint and tips for discouraging taggers. The department is using “transformer green” because the dark color has deterred the reoccurrence of graffiti on utility poles, trash receptacles, retaining walls, and other public property.

“We're sending a message to vandals and criminal taggers that their graffiti will not blight our neighborhoods,” says Mohammed Nuru, public works deputy director and chair of the city's Graffiti Advisory Board. “A proactive program that focuses on prevention will help curb the spread of graffiti and ease the financial burden for hard-working business owners and taxpayers.”

Funded with a $15,000 Community Challenge Grant, “Clean and Green Trucks” follows two similar programs public works launched in conjunction with the San Francisco Arts Commission. StreetsmARTS partners artists with business owners to make property less likely to be vandalized, and Where Art Lives educates students about the difference between community art and vandalism.

In addition, more than 1,300 residents have signed the department's Graffiti Pledge, a pledge drive launched last spring at a Zero Graffiti summit to encourage residents to prevent, remove, and report graffiti.