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September 1999
Grand Award: Muni's Volunteer Grime Force Grime Force

Partners in Grime
Adopt-a-Muni founder Joe Blue, front and center, poses at the Forest Hill station with key members of his crew -- (from left to right) Bill Jacobs, John Farrell, Cory Clark, Bud Wilson, Tom Chin and Alice Tom -- along with Muni Metro Maintenance Supervisor Irene Richard.
(photo: Lionel Da Silva, S.F. Muni)

You could call him "Mr. Clean," the tall, energetic San Francisco resident who organized his West of Twin Peaks neighbors into a hands-on, don't-take-no-for-an-answer citizen force that has grown and spread citywide as the Adopt-a-Muni Committee. In November 1997, on Mayor Willie Brown's second annual "Clean Up Day," Joseph Blue and some of his neighbors, armed with mops, brooms and scrub brushes, attacked the grime in and around the Forest Hill Muni Metro station and the nearby Muni bus shelter.The 81-year-old station, the oldest in the Muni system, was in sad shape inside and out: graffiti-covered, crime-ridden and dirty, with a platform ceiling that leaked heavily in the rainy season.

In Blue's words, "It was a mess."

Beginning with their own labor, followed by unremitting lobbying of Mayor Brown and city officials for more resources, Blue and his team of committed volunteers slowly began to turn things around. "We called meetings with structural engineers, Muni maintenance and police officials," recalls Blue, a real estate broker. "We had the support of Mayor Brown and (former acting Muni General Manager) David Stumpo, and we actually took over the station management. We met with principals of nearby schools about graffiti and juvenile crime. We asked the police to increase their station area patrols and (San Francisco County) Sheriff Mike Hennessy to provide workers through SWAP (Sheriff's Work Alternative Program) to help maintain the area around the station."

The Forest Hill Muni Metro station
(photo: Lionel Da Silva, S.F. Muni)

The committee's persistence and hard work paid off. Two years later, Forest Hill station is a restored, architectural gem: its high-ceilinged lobby freshly painted, floors and walls shining clean, the platform dry and leak-proofed with a new drainage system. Crime around the station has been cut by two-thirds, and graffiti is down 80 percent. Blue is pleased, but not complacent. As he guides a visitor through the station, picking up small pieces of errant trash, he points out flaws: a missing ceiling panel in the elevator, scratches on the new windows. "You have to have zero tolerance for graffiti," he says. "People look at (the condition of) a station and act accordingly.

"Safety is very important here," he adds. "We are right across the street from Laguna Honda Hospital, and many of the people who use this station are elderly or disabled."

Blue's Adopt-a-Muni Committee has grown to 59 members from all parts of San Francisco and as far away as Burlingame. "We had 39 people go underground for three months to visit Muni Metro stations and write report cards that we gave to Muni management," Blue says. "We graded the stations on cleanliness, lack of graffiti and responsiveness of the station agents."

Not content just to criticize, the committee members recognize good work when they see it, digging into their own pockets to reward exceptional Muni worker performance. They have contributed $8,000 to the Muni Worker of the Month program, offering $100 to $300 to individual station agents and maintenance workers who have gone beyond the call of duty.

For their entrepreneurial spirit in voluntarily tackling a job that needed to be done and contributing their own labor, time and money to benefit San Francisco Muni Railway patrons, MTC is presenting its 1999 Grand Award to the Adopt-a-Muni Committee.

- Marjorie Blackwell


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