San Francisco fights public urination with repellant paint

San Francisco has painted nine walls with repellant paint that makes pee spray back on the offender in an effort to combat public urination.

In the city’s latest effort to address the chronic problem, walls around the city have been coated with clear, liquid repellant material that goes on like paint. When hit with urine, it splashes back on a person’s shoes and pants.

Mohammad Nuru, director of San Francisco’s public works department, says offenders will need to make the mistake only once to get the idea.

"If you have to go," he said, "go in the right place."

Nuru got the idea from Germany, where walls in Hamburg’s St. Pauli quarter are painted with the material to encourage late-night beer drinkers to find a bathroom rather than an alleyway.

Public urination has been a long standing problem in San Francisco, where a light pole corroded by urine recently fell on a car. The city appears to be the only one in the country to be using Ultra-Ever Dry from a Florida-based company, and it’s already receiving a stream of queries about the product’s success.

"We are getting calls from all over the place: Washington, D.C., Hawaii and Oakland," said Nuru, who Tweets under the handle @MrCleanSF.

Potential offenders get fair warning about the consequences of urinating on the coated walls that sit on public and private property around the city.

Some walls are covered with signs that read: "Hold it! This wall is not a public restroom. Please respect San Francisco and seek relief in an appropriate place."

Public urination is a health concern, and keeping the city clean is a 24-7 battle, said Kevin Sporer, superintendent of the building repair bureau.

The new paint is paying off.

"There's a lot less activity, and the result is noticeable," Sporer said.

Public urination is illegal, but a fine of up to $500 passed in San Francisco in 2002 has seen little success.

Resident Jon Kolb was in a public transit plaza in the Mission district, where crews recently painted a low wall with the liquid repellant paint. Kolb told The Associated Press he believes this is a good idea. He has seen people who sleep in the plaza become visibly upset when others do their business on the wall.

"People will actually get violent about it," Kolb said.

But will the paint really be a deterrent?

"It would be to me," he said.

The paint and labor to apply the material have only cost the city a few hundred dollars, as opposed to the steam cleaning, which costs $80 per hour.

Since January, there have been 375 requests to steam clean urine from sidewalks and other areas. But that's a 17 percent drop over the past year.

Another addition is attendants in a few of the 25 green Pit Stop public bathrooms around San Francisco. They clean and restock supplies and make sure people don't use drugs or sleep inside the restrooms.

"We want people to have clean and safe bathrooms, so having an attendant there has made all the difference in the world," Nuru said. "We want everyone to become educated. Don't unzip. Hold it, and use the bathroom that is available."

Meanwhile, the public utilities commission is checking the city's 25,000 light posts for corrosion and other problems and replacing the ones that need it. This comes amid a recent tumble of a three-story-tall light post that was old, corroded with a likely mix of human and dog urine, and weighed down by a large banner.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.