Christine for District 6 Supervisor Christine for District 6 Supervisor

Clean streets are a municipal responsibility - Christine Johnson

I look down at my feet when walking outside. When I see a needle, I just breathe a sigh of relief that my two-year old son isn’t with me. I’m terrified of the day he will try to pick one up. In our home, we don’t allow outside shoes beyond the front door. I have spoken to those who would like to do the same but due to disability or age, cannot. I know people who have seen Homeowner Association fees go up to pay for private services to clean the streets. The image below is the scene setter for residents every morning.

If you can relate, join nearly every business owner and resident in our downtown neighborhoods.

Ask anyone who lives in San Francisco’s District 6, which includes the Tenderloin and SOMA neighborhoods, what they want to see changed and without a doubt street cleanliness will come up. Needles, poop and garbage are not just a nuisance…they are a public health crisis and a threat to our economy. Seniors and children are especially vulnerable to diseases that can be carried by the detritus on our streets. As for the economy, reports are growing of tourism and convention business leaving San Francisco. It’s right that people are in an uproar about it.

What we haven’t heard is a real strategy to address street cleanliness. I’m running for District 6 Supervisor and one of the drivers for me to run for office is to make our streets safe and clean for everyone. Here, I want to go beyond rhetoric and vague promises to fight for funding and offer a concrete strategy.

I propose that we need to change our City Administrative Code to return the management of the streets back to the City. Once this is done, the City can:

  • Review the budget of the Department of Public Works to ensure they can handle full responsibility for cleaning the streets. This may require a review of their staffing budget for street cleaners and capital budget for garbage cans, trucks and other equipment; and
  • Work with Recology on how garbage pickups can be handled better once streets are the responsibility of the City. This may require coordination with SFMTA and neighborhood groups if the solution requires adjusting the timing of garbage pickup. The status quo of garbage strewn across the streets before most people are at work is unacceptable.

Why this change?

Chapter 1, Section 1.52 of the San Francisco Administrative Code says that property owners are responsible for keeping the sidewalks outside their property in “good repair and condition”. This has been a disaster for the cleanliness of our streets. Small property owners in particular do not have the resources to deal with cleaning needles, blood, poop and other garbage up on a daily basis. Images like the one below are common — property owners spending dollars on private assistance in a futile effort to clean the streets.

This administrative set up is part of the reason that when the budget was increased for street cleaning this year, the original proposal divided the budget for 44 new street cleaners evenly…instead of based on need. This would have meant that District 4 which includes the much cleaner Sunset would have gotten the same 4 cleaning staff as District 6 which includes the Tenderloin. I argue if the City were fully responsible for the streets we would see a different outcome.

Unable to collectively cope with the burden of managing street cleanliness, property owners have turned to paying community benefit districts to help manage the responsibility. Community benefit districts are sanctioned by the City but levy money for their budgets directly from property owners on top of existing taxes. Ideally, they should focus their efforts on programming, cultural events and other ways to support community building. Unfortunately, many property owners contribute to these organizations not because of their awesome programming but because they offer to help keep the streets clean. Images like the one below of a garbage can paid for by a community benefit district are deeply problematic to me. This should be city’s job.

It is no coincidence that District 6 is home to 6 different non hotel-related community benefit districts when there are only 15in the entire city. This population will go up by one with the pending addition of the West SOMA CBD. In 2017, the Tenderloin CBD spent a whopping 53% of their budget on street cleaning. Other CBDs in District 6 that reported figures publicly spent on average nearly 30% of their budgets on street cleaning. I argue that those are dollars that should go towards helping small businesses succeed, putting on cultural events, and helping neighbors get to know one another.

We’ve made similar changes before…

In 2016, San Francisco voters overwhelming approved Proposition E which returned the management of trees on our sidewalks to the City. It’s easy to see now how backwards and frustrating the previous policy was. Asking individual home and commercial property owners to care for trees on a “public” sidewalk led to dead and diseased trees, broken sidewalks from improperly attended roots and frustrated property owners who had to find the money to take care of all this or face City fines. Frustrated property owners sometimes just cut trees down reducing our already low urban tree canopy. Prop E returned that responsibility to the City and provided funding for the Department of Public Works to manage the work. We have a similar situation happening with our sidewalks and I argue it is the main reason why dirty streets has reached a nadir.

So we can do it again…

The plan I have proposed will result in cleaner streets and more pride in our City. Success will make everything else about solving quality of life issues so much easier. We can improve public safety, make all residents feel like they are part of the City fabric and focus on bigger changes we will need to make our City a place where anyone can build a life. It all starts with cleaner streets.