It’s no secret that much of San Francisco’s trash – especially in neighborhoods like Mission, Tenderloin, and Mission Dolores – ends up on the sidewalks.
Christine, an owner who lives on 21st Street near Mission Street, was outside her house one morning picking up bits and pieces armed with pliers with a pliers-armed grasping tool. “In an ideal world, people would have to deposit their rubbish somewhere,” she says.
Christine has garbage bags, metal garbage collectors, and gloves ready to pick up garbage that has been left in front of her home on the mission. She says if she picks up the trash herself, it is less likely to attract further dumping. But if she sees feces on the street, she’ll report it. Photo by Clara-Sophia Daly.
But in San Francisco, this place was on the sidewalk or on the steps of Christine’s property, where she regularly cleaned up trash – sometimes she had to call the city’s 311 hotline for human feces and diarrhea.
Angel Mayorga, a 63-year-old resident who lived in the Mission his entire life, frequently uses the 311 application on his iPhone to send notices to the San Francisco Public Works. You clean up, but the problem remains. “Clean streets and cleanliness are a basic human need,” Mayorga said. “It’s going to be disgusting.”
But it’s not just human feces that residents always call to clean up, it’s everyday trash – cans, old meals, food packaging – the kind of trash residents would normally throw in a jar.
A public works clerk loads trash left on the sidewalk into his truck at the mission. Photo by Clara-Sophia Daly.
The Mission and San Francisco used to have what most cities have: ubiquitous public garbage cans. But in 2007, Mayor Gavin Newsom decided that the best way to reduce garbage in San Francisco is to get rid of trash cans.
Ross Mirkarimi, former sheriff and supervisor of District 5, recalled a meeting with then Mayor Gavin Newsom and other senior officials. According to Mirkarimi, city guides believed that “trash cans become a magnet for more rubbish that goes beyond the can. They believed that cans become a marker for people to unload what they wanted.”
“I wasn’t in favor of taking away trash cans,” says Mirkarimi. “I didn’t find it intuitive, but the administration so insisted that this was an experiment we had to try.”
And they did. Around 1,500 trash cans were pulled from the streets of the city.
Nowadays, residents routinely walk several blocks before running into a trash can. On the way you can see to-go containers, paper bags, masks, gloves and other rubbish from other pedestrians who have simply given up trying to find a trash can. And that’s no wonder.
In 2007 the city had 4,500 trash cans. We now have 3,113 public trash cans – 1,500 fewer than 14 years ago.
And when compared to other cities, 4,500 doses added up to very few for a 47 square mile city. 3,113 even less. Manhattan, for example, has three times the number of trash cans – 9,144 – to cover its 23 square miles, according to the New York City Sanitation Department.
In contrast, the abundance of trash cans in Manhattan is easy to spot. Go everywhere and almost every corner has a trash can. In San Francisco, go with the trash in hand and keep walking. Anyone who has a dog knows that you have to walk at least a few blocks to find a garbage can.
Although the idea of ridding a city of public garbage cans in order to clean them up doesn’t sound intuitive, it is based on the idea that when a city has many public garbage cans, people take advantage of them and for illegal dumping of household or business waste use. Other cities have come to the same conclusion.
In fact, New York City dumped 223 trash cans in Harlem in 2008 when officials decided the trash cans were attracting dumping. This experiment was also unsuccessful. Removing the baskets did not “significantly reduce litter,” according to the NYC Department of Sanitation.
The failure of Newsom’s plan to solve the city’s garbage problem has not gone unnoticed.
Experiment on the trash can for public works from 2017
In April 2017, Public Works, in collaboration with Mayor Ed Lee and District Supervisor Hillary Ronen, installed 38 new trash cans along the Mission Street corridor between 14th and Cesar Chavez streets. The aptly named “Yes We Can” pilot program in the Mission District was a direct response to the idea that more bins could mean less rubbish on the sidewalk and on the streets.
At the time, promises were made to see if “the extra considerations lead to less garbage and fewer complaints” until 311, which launched in 2008.
Public Works Spokeswoman Rachel Gordon examined the service request 12 months before the new cans and 12 months after and said, “We have seen more calls for overflowing cans, but we haven’t seen noticeably more complaints for garbage-related services . “
There is no data on calls for overflowing cans, but during the trial period the service calls for the scatter patrol increased from an average of 77 per month to 74 per month and the service calls for illegal dumping increased went from 70 per month to 61 per month according to the program.
Public Works’ Gordon believes the 38 new bins are still there.
Currently, San Francisco still has that 3,113 public trash cans left after Newsom’s plan went into effect, compared to 5,000 in 2007. Recology says the trash cans along 24th Street, Mission Street and Cesar Chavez are serviced at least twice a day, seven days a week.
Gordon says that if district overseers want more cans, they’ll add more so long as the cans “don’t cause more problems than they help”.
Supervisor Ronen said, “For starters, we need more bins outside of each of our parks – Garfield, Jose Coronado, Parque Ninos Unidos.” She added that she has “advocated more and better trash cans for District 9 for years.”
Indeed, San Francisco is in the process of choosing from a range of new designs.
For now, some say the trash cans in San Francisco are easy to search (for both rodents and humans) and difficult to tell whether or not they are for trash or recycling.
Honey Mahogany, a legal advisor to Supervisor Matt Haney, called the current cans “renaissance trash cans,” meaning they’re easy to abuse, and said they were picked by former public works director Mohammed Nuru, though he was told that they were ineffective by some superiors, including Mirkarimi, according to him.
Reporting of garbage and garbage to public works by 311
Tracking the amount of trash on the sidewalk in San Francisco is made possible by data from 311, a phone number, and now an app that residents can use to report trash on the streets of San Francisco.
The service launched in 2008, a year after Newsom got rid of 1,500 trash cans. So there are no comparisons before and after. Mayor Ed Lee introduced the 311 app in August 2013.
In the past five years, Mission Dolores had the second highest number of garbage complaints, adjusted for population size. Mission comes third, and fillet comes first because it has the most complaints about junk.
In 2019, the Mission had the second highest volume of 311 faecal removal calls with 14 percent of citywide inquiries or a total of 3,942 service calls. The demand for overfilled containers rose last year to 1,613 – and thus took third place in calls via trash cans.
If the garbage ends up on the sidewalk, residents call or file a report on 311 and the public works department crews pick up the garbage.
Fewer bins and bigger budgets for Recology and the Public Works Department
Although the city’s population has increased by a little more than 10 Percent since Newsom’s 2007 plan went into effect and the city has 1,500 fewer public bins. Even so, according to Recology spokesman Robert Reed, Recology’s budget has “increased by more than a third to more than $ 22 million a year”.
As for the public works department, which picks up street litter on the 311 calls, crews, which include workers, truck drivers and supervisors, have increased 25 percent over the past five years to 349.
Gordon said the goal is to respond to street cleaning requests within 48 hours. 24 hours for human / animal waste. “Public Works achieved that goal for 91.4 percent of inquiries, she said.
But much of the rubbish is not reported and remains on the street.
Anthony, a public works worker who picked up trash on Bartlett Street at Mission, said he was struggling to keep up with requests.
“Right now I’m backed up … still trying to catch up from two days ago and we have one thing in town where we should get it done in a certain time, so I’m just trying to do what I do can do to get it done. “
Paul Monge, an aide to Supervisor Ronen, referred to Proposal B, which 61 percent of voters approved in November, with no additional bins or crews.
No trash cans or garbage crews will be added, but it will provide oversight of the Public Works Department, and it will also create a new Sanitation and Roads Department in 2022 and a five-person Sanitary and Roads Commission to help them monitor.
Until then, the superiors appease their voters with different solutions.
Mahogany, who helped write Proposition B, says Haney used adback money, or money found through the town’s regular budget process granted to the community, to clean up the streets around the Tenderloin and Civic Center where excessive garbage hurt small businesses.
“Our office has taken the cleaning of the district into its own hands and has spent funds on street cleaning, invested more directly in cleaning and passed an ordinance making public bathrooms nearby [homeless] Warehouse. ”
“As a city, we do not invest in maintaining streets, and it is mainly people of color in urban areas who are affected by DPW who do not take responsibility for cleaning the sidewalks.”
Mission residents like Francesca Pastine, who has lived in the mission since 1994 and in San Francisco since 1976, regularly send Ronen’s office emails with photos of the littered streets.
She would like to see public works take on more responsibility and work proactively to clean up rubbish.
Gordon of Public Works says, “But we also need to focus on why roads are destroyed in the first place.”
She blames San Francisco residents for sloppy thinking and unconcern. She tries to confront this with public awareness campaigns in schools and elsewhere. But education has not worked so far.
Mirkarimi agrees that it’s up to the residents. “If there is no kind of accountability for social and personal responsibility to work,” the city will not be cleaned up.
Photo by Lydia Chavez