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Mayor, DPH to fund new needle cleanup team

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Mayor Mark Farrell and Department of Public Health Director Barbara Garcia are expected to announce Monday that they will provide $750,000 to the AIDS Foundation to hire for 10 new positions for a needle clean up team. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Mayor Mark Farrell has said he will veto a street cleaning proposal approved by the Board of Supervisors last week, but is countering with his own plan, beginning with today’s announcement of a dedicated team of employees whose “sole responsibility” is cleaning up needles littering the streets.

Farrell and Department of Public Health Director Barbara Garcia are expected to announce Monday they will provide $750,000 to the AIDS Foundation to hire for 10 new positions for a needle clean up team.

Discarded syringes on the streets are among the top litter complaints.

The effort builds on existing syringe cleanup strategies by city agencies and nonprofits, but Farrell said they are a “disjointed patchwork” and “not having the impact we need.” Farrell will create “a dedicated team whose sole responsibility is needle pick up.”

Residents will notice a difference “without a doubt,” Farrell said, adding, “If they don’t, we will fund more.”

The 10 positions will add to the four in place now under the department’s five-year-old program known as the Community Health Response Team. Garcia said she expects the workers would start as early as June.

Garcia characterized the effort as a “rapid response team” that will deploy based on data or complaints, such as through The City’s 311 call center, to “try and clean up as many needles off the ground as possible.” She said the funding will come from revenue in the department’s current budget.

The team will improve upon the more than 275,000 needles collected each month by the Public Health Department and nonprofits who provide syringes and safe disposal

Farrell’s announcement is part of an expected larger street cleaning effort he has vowed to include in his June 1 city budget proposal to the board for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Last week, the the board voted 6-5 in a second and final vote to approve a $1.1 million supplemental to increase street cleaning, which was proposed by Supervisor Jane Kim, a mayoral candidate. However Farrell said he would veto the request for additional funding in the current budget year in favor of a promised comprehensive citywide plan. He has until Friday to do so.

“I do not support this budget supplemental request in the middle of our budget season. I will veto it when it crosses my desk. As I have said consistently, street cleaning will be a top priority for me in the upcoming budget and my proposal will be much more comprehensive and geared to meet the needs of every neighborhood in San Francisco,” Farrell said in a statement last week.

Farrell will leave office in July, replaced by the winner of the June election.

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