City spends $80K to audit street cleaning 

The city agency in charge of keeping streets clean is paying a consultant $80,000 to examine its own street-sweeping program, following a report last month criticizing the department for being inefficient and nonresponsive to complaints.

The Department of Public Works, which is responsible for San Francisco’s cleanliness, tree canopy and sidewalk conditions, is failing to respond to requests to remove graffiti and clean up streets in a timely manner, is not pruning overgrown trees often enough and is lacking measures that can show its work is performed cost-effectively, according to an audit conducted by the Budget Analyst’s Office, which was released Jan. 9.

In a response to the report, DPW Director Fred Abadi said during a Board of Supervisors committee hearing Monday that the problems will be addressed, offering the hiring of the consultant as one fix for The City’s street-cleaning ills.

Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, chairman of the board’s Government Audit and Oversight Committee, initially greeted the consultant hire with skepticism.

"You’ve hired a consultant to tell us about where our street cleaners need to go?" Elsbernd said.

Abadi defended the expense by saying The City last examined the street-sweeping program more than 16 years ago.

"There is a need to look at the routes. Maybe there is a better way of doing our routes. Maybe we need to change the frequencies in certain areas," Abadi said. A final draft of the consultant report is due in June. Abadi said that implementation of any changes would depend on the nature of the recommendations.

"The changes may require a changing of parking requirements. And we would need to go through hearings and all that. We are anxious. We want to be able to implement any recommendations that come out of it as soon as possible," Abadi said.

The consultant expense comes as DPW cites staffing shortages and funding constraints for an inability to perform a number of duties, such as pruning trees more often or more aggressively cleaning up city streets.

A 2005 survey by the Controller’s Office found that less than half of The City’s residents rated neighborhood cleanliness as good or very good.

Additionally, thousands of requests to clean streets or remove graffiti were made to DPW during the last fiscal year, but the department sometimes came up short in meeting its goal of a 48-hour response time, according to the audit.

Abadi said Monday that DPW is also developing a new program slated for an April launch that will include a rating of city streets based on pothole numbers and a proactive schedule for repairing them.

Although in the last few years the Board of Supervisors allocated more than $15 million to fund street repaving and pothole repair projects, it’s impossible to determine how cost-effective DPW’s pothole patching has been, according to the audit.

"It’s not one single issue. It’s a general issue of performance. Not only do we not have good performance but in many cases we don’t have standards by which we can measure performance," Elsbernd said. He added, "I want to bring them back in May and see what progress they’ve made on a lot of these commitments."

jsabatini@examiner.com

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