Visitors to Chinatown this month should avoid littering and keep an eye out for wet paint.

The San Francisco Department of Public Works is devoting the month of February to an intensive cleanup and beautification effort to ready the iconic neighborhood for the Chinese New Year celebration and Feb. 27 parade.

Rather than spreading out cleanup efforts, the city is partnering with neighborhood groups to spruce up areas before a big influx of visitors, according to Mohammed Nuru, DPW’s deputy director for operations. Merchant groups in Union Square helped with the first cleanup blitz before the Christmas shopping season.

The city is hoping these extra beautification efforts improve the experience of thousands of visitors at a time when local merchants are struggling for visits.

Chinatown’s constant parade of food and souvenir shoppers take their toll on the area’s narrow streets, Nuru said.

This afternoon, crews were busy touching up the iconic turquoise, red and gold street lamps that line Grant Avenue. Striding through the neighborhood on a tour for members of the media, Nuru pointed out repainted curbs, newly striped crosswalks and freshly filled potholes. Noting a cook smoking a cigarette outside a restaurant, Nuru had a Chinese-speaking staff member administer a warning.

To prepare for the crowds, DPW also cites shop owners who let their wares spill out too far onto the sidewalk. When city inspectors start citing businesses at one end of the street, word travels and merchandise quickly gets moved inside, Nuru said.

Graffiti is another ongoing problem in Chinatown, according to Nuru. Crews use a scanner to match paint colors on buildings, then custom-blend colors in the back of a truck to paint over the blighted walls. The city has also distributed more than 100 buckets of custom-matched paint to graffiti-plagued Chinatown businesses since June, Nuru said.

This month’s cleanup also includes a makeover for the Stockton Street tunnel. On Friday, a fleet of people will be painting the tunnel’s worn metal handrails gold, and covering the mottled walls with a uniform coat of paint.

That day Nuru expects 300 volunteers, including local students and businesses to help with a variety of improvement projects in the area.

The city will also be partnering with merchants around AT&T Park in April and in Fisherman’s Wharf before the summer tourist season.

Photo: Steve Rhodes

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