Street cleanup costs may hit consumers 

Just four months after imposing a fee on cigarettes to offset cleanup costs, The City is considering adding a fee to the purchase price of chewing gum and other items that end up on streets and sidewalks.

As The City faced a massive deficit last year, Mayor Gavin Newsom proposed the first of these fee types, which was approved by the Board of Supervisors. The 20-cent charge on every pack of cigarettes purchased went into effect this fiscal year to offset the Department of Public Works’ cost of picking up those butts cluttering public spaces. The fee generates about $3 million annually for the agency.

As The City once again has to close a deficit in excess of $500 million, Newsom has ordered departments to come up with
30 percent in cuts.

“We’re going to contemplate an expansion of litter fees,” Department of Public Works director Ed Reiskin told the Board of Supervisors on Wednesday. “There are other pieces of litter that the Department of Environment in its audits has identified as contributing to our litter problem in the streets, so there is a nexus there that we may be able to establish.”

This year’s Department of Public Works budget is $172 million, of which $17 million is from The City’s general fund. DPW is responsible for the upkeep of San Francisco’s streets and infrastructure. The department also cleans city streets, plants and maintains trees, and removes graffiti from public property.

Supervisor John Avalos, who chairs the board’s Budget and Finance Committee, said, “I have to see the details.” Avalos said that small businesses are concerned about the cigarette fee. “I supported it. It was part of the balance of the budget,” Avalos said.

Currently, the DPW is proposing a study to determine if a connection exists between certain types of litter and cleanup costs. “To the extent possible, we want to make sure that the burden of the cost of litter on our streets rests with the people generating it,” DPW spokeswoman Christine Falvey said.

Chewing gum is the worst culprit of litter when it comes to so-called “small litter,” at about 40 percent of the litter counted, according to The City’s recent litter audit. That is followed by small glass, small paper and cigarette butts.

Adding fees at the consumer’s expense is a worry for business advocates.

“Small business in San Francisco is hurting and in danger of becoming a species that will disappear,” said Jimmy Shamieh, vice president of the Arab American Grocers Association. He said the tobacco fee and other similar fees would prompt customers to purchase the items outside of The City, where they are less expensive.

“It’s scaring the customers away from San Francisco,” Shamieh said.

Dawn Trennert, of the Middle Polk Neighborhood Association, a group partnering with The City on a campaign to stop cigarette littering, said that additional fees are worth exploring. She said during the lean budget years adequate street cleaning is a “concern.”

“The money has got to come from somewhere,” Trennert said.


Sticky situation

The kinds of litter found on San Francisco’s streets:

Small litter    Litter counted
Chewing gum    41.1%
Small glass    22.9%
Small paper    6.6%
Cigarette butts    10.0%
Other materials    3.1%

Large litter   Litter counted
No brand name towels, napkins, serviette    16.7%
Printed material    9.6%
Miscellaneous paper    8.0%
Miscellaneous plastic    4.7%
Receipts    4.2%


Department of Public Works litter and cleanup costs:

20 cents City litter fee charged on every pack of cigarettes purchased

$3M Annual amount cigarette fee generates for DPW to clean up butts

$38.5M DPW’s proposed street cleaning and graffiti budget for FY2010-11, of which $3 million is revenue from the 20-cent cigarette fee

Source: Department of Environment 2008 Litter Study, Department of Public Works

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