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Justin Bieber Declared Blight on Quality of Life in San Francisco

Technically, city attorney was talking about guerrilla sidewalk graffiti by the Bieb's record company. Technicallly.


Taking a stand against quality-of-life issue Justin Bieber, City Attorney Dennis Herrera today sent a strongly worded letter to the Bieb's record labels, Def Jam Records and Universal Music Group, over a graffiti marketing campaign promoting Bieber's new album. The tags, which in November appeared on sidewalks in the Haight, Mission, and SoMa, have been drawing ire online and off. Worse, the recent rains have done nothing to wash them away, as they appear to have been applied with spray paint, not chalk. In the letter, Herrera vowed to "aggressively pursue all available penalties and costs."

Matt Dorsey, Herrera's spokesman, says he doesn't have an estimate of how much removing the graffiti will cost. But in all, according to Herrera, city taxpayers spend around $20 million each year removing graffiti, some of it by other law-flouting PR outfits doing dirty deeds for Lyft, Zynga, and IBM. Herrera's letter includes eight photos of the graffiti taken around town (and because he sent it via fax, we're left with the rather delicious image of record company fax machines spewing out copy after copy of their own shoddy marketing). 

From its track record, the city attorney's office seems poised to collect tens of thousands of dollars for cleanup—maybe more. According to Dorsey, IBM paid the city more than $100,000 after its illegal "Peace, Love, and Linux" spray-paint campaign in 2001, and Turner Broadcasting shelled out $85,000 after installing illegal LED signs promoting Aqua Teen Hunger Force in 2007. (Remember the Boston Mooninite panic? Same thing.) Concerned that such fines have merley become the "cost of doing business," Supervisor Aaron Peskin is already drafting legislation to toughen up civil penalties for these illegal campaigns.

Not only does commercially sponsored graffiti vandalism "illegally exploit" the city's walkable neighhborhoods, Herrera added, but it also endangers pedestrians—who, after all, have no choice but to tweet about how angry a Bieber tag in a public right-of-way makes them. Herrera's complaint that the campaign is "sending the wrong message to youth" isn't mere fist-shaking, by the way. "Justin Bieber's demographic is exactly the age group we don't want thinking graffiti is OK," says Dorsey. "This is an age group where there's a lot of this kind of activity." (It warrants mentioning that San Francisco also has laws against public nudity). 

Asked whether the city attorney's office, in issuing such an entertaining threat, hasn't merely become an unwitting Belieber in its own right—look who we're all talking about now!—Dorsey chuckles. "I would say part of the reason we do this is to shame companies into knowing not to do it." He adds, "My guess is that Justin Bieber is not going to be happy about this. "He's got the number-one"—actually, that's number-two—"song in the country. We picked this week for a reason."


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