Trashy streets remain a problem 

Last fiscal year, The City spent more than $15 million picking up litter, but the results are drawing mixed reviews.

Amid shrinking resources, the Department of Public Works is becoming creative with stretching its dollars and generating revenue. The City adopted a 20-cent fee on the sale of cigarettes to help pay for the cost of cleaning up discarded butts. That fee is under review and may be lowered by Jan. 1 due to legal concerns.

“I think we’ve been doing a pretty good job in addressing the litter,” Public Works Director Ed Reiskin said. “San Francisco has a considerable litter problem. I wish I knew what was behind it.”

Last fiscal year — from July 1, 2009, to June 30 — Public Works spent $38.8 million on cleanup, ranging from such things as graffiti removal, illegal-dumping pickup and street cleaning. That includes the $15 million spent on picking up litter, paying for manual block sweepers, crew supervisors, salaries and materials, among other costs. This fiscal year’s total cleanup budget is $35.8 million.

Changing people’s behavior would go a long way, according to Reiskin.

“Other than the wind, it’s people that are putting the litter there,” he said.

Residents and merchants say garbage can attract crime, eat into business and send visitors away with a bad impression of San Francisco.

“I think there’s room for improvement,” said Dawn Trennert of the Middle Polk Neighborhood Association, a group that has partnered with The City on a campaign to stop cigarette littering. “We just started to raise awareness that cigarette butts are in fact litter.”

For the neighborhood group, cleaning up the streets is its way of stamping out crime.

“For us, the cleanliness part of the equation was a huge part in the crime safety part of the equation,” Trennert said.

With $3 million less to spend on the problem, Public Works has become more creative by targeting key areas such as heavily trafficked commercial corridors and partnering with business owners, according to Reiskin.

“We have fewer bodies out on the street, but we’re being more efficient,” he said.

“There are times when you just want to scream,” said Anita Correa, who owns the Victoria Theatre in the Mission district. “It’s a never-ending problem. There’s not enough personnel to deal with it. There’s not a big enough budget, and we got a lot of sloppy
people.”

But the challenge of cleaning up litter could soon become more daunting. The department again faces budget cuts as The City must close a deficit in excess of $400 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Taking out the trash

Various kinds of litter found on San Francisco streets:

Small    Count
Chewing gum    41.1%
Small glass    22.9%
Small paper    6.6%
Cigarette butts    10.0%
Other materials    3.1%

Large    Count
No-brand-name towels,
napkins    16.7%
Printed material    9.6%
Miscellaneous paper    8.0%
Miscellaneous plastic    4.7%
Receipts    4.2%

Source: Department of the Environment’s 2008 litter study

Cleanup costs

What the Department of Public Works spent cleaning up litter in the 2009-10 fiscal year:

$15,116,683 Bill for manual block sweepers, green machines, crew supervisors, other personnel, contracts, materials, support services

Public Works’ efforts:
*Since 2008, it has conducted 209 eco-blitzes, or targeted and increased cleaning services on busy streets
*It has performed 29 night walks, which target clean-city education and enforcement on streets with a large number of businesses open at night

Source: Department of Public Works

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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