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Supervisors fight over funding for additional street cleaners

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Supervisor Jane Kim’s proposal to add new funding for street cleaning in the current fiscal year met with opposition in committee Thursday. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Despite ongoing complaints of feces, hypodermic needles and litter on San Francisco’s streets, a proposal to spend millions of dollars more to increase cleanup efforts met with opposition Thursday.

While Supervisor Jane Kim wants The City to take $2.5 million in unspent money in the the current fiscal year’s budget to pay for more brooms, street sweeper machines and street cleaners, her more moderate colleagues held it up during a Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee hearing.

They argued Kim should wait and follow the usual budget process — not push through a mid-year spending increase.

The funding boost would be in addition to the $65 million out of The City’s $10.1 billion budget that is allocated for street cleaning in the current fiscal year through the Public Works’ Street Environmental Services bureau. There are currently 247 positions with the bureau.

But the proposal from Kim, who is running for mayor in June, was opposed by chair of the budget committee Supervisor Malia Cohen, who is supporting Board president London Breed in the mayor’s race.

Cohen said she opposed approving the added spending outside of the usual budget process.

Cohen acknowledged that “the streets absolutely are filthy and that they do need some attention and some love and certainly some funding.” But she said, “We’ve got a budget process and supplementals take us outside of the budget process.”

She added that Mayor Mark Farrell said he would make street cleaning a priority in his budget proposal, which he is required to submit by June 1 for the board to review and consider.

But Kim said if they wait until the budget is adopted for next fiscal year there will be a delay until at least September or October before The City would be able to hire more street cleaners. Her proposal would ensure the hiring of more street cleaners by May. She also argued that given the “crisis,” any leftover money should go to street cleaning as soon as possible.

Cohen, who was absent for the actual vote, left two other voting members of the committee to decide what to do. Supervisor Catherine Stefani supported Cohen’s position. “I’m very committed to a thorough and vetted budget process with our department heads,” Stefani said.

Supervisor Sandra Fewer, however, supported Kim’s proposal. “I don’t want to wait,” Fewer said.

The two decided to compromise and postpone the issue one week for further negotiations.

Meanwhile, a number of residents came to the hearing to support Kim’s proposal.

Jane Weil, a resident on Mission Street, between 7th and 8th streets, said she moved from “lovely clean Cow Hollow to a beautiful new condo downtown, walking distance to everything.”

“Little did I know that I was walking into a hell hole,” she said. Among her complaints was, “We walk through poop, vomit and syringes daily. We can’t walk on certain blocks because so many people are openly injecting and passed out with piles of trash everywhere.”

She added, “We are in a crisis. We can’t wait. These funds are available and we need them now.”

Neil Patel, associative executive director with the Yerba Buena Community Benefit District, which levies a fee on property owners to pay for service not provided by The City, said, “We picked up, last fiscal year, 300,000 pounds of trash.”

“Even the existence of a community benefit district speaks to the fact that the city can’t keep up with the needs that are out there on the streets,” Patel said. “We would love The City to devote more resources to this.”

Public Works performs regularly scheduled street cleaning, such as sweeping and steam cleaning, and also responds to service requests. Cleaning crews also may focus on specific areas known for unclean conditions as well as homeless encampments.

Of the $2.5 million in Kim’s proposal, $1.6 million will allow The City to add more street cleaners, who will be paid $17.71 hourly, or $39.31 per hour with fringe benefits, and will pay for 41,150 hours of cleanup work — an 8 percent increase in current staffing, or about 19 more cleaners.

As part of the proposal, The City would use $560,000 to purchase two RAVO street sweepers, bringing the total to six.

The Tenderloin Neighborhood Litter Reduction and Workforce Development Grant would get a funding boost as well with $230,000 in funding to allow the TL Clean nonprofit program to increase its current five days a week cleaning to seven days per week.

The remaining $100,000 will pay for equipment like brooms, shovels, pickers, bags, cleaning chemicals, uniforms, and personal protective equipment.

“Our city, for whatever reason, has been getting dirtier every year. In 2015, we had 40,000 calls for services asking for additional street cleaning pickup,” Kim said. “Last year, in 2017, it almost doubled to 80,000 calls for services.”

Kim noted that a third of the requests come from District 6, the Tenderloin and SOMA neighborhoods she represents.

“We have a crisis of dirty streets and needles and human feces and I don’t think our residents can wait until October to see additional street cleaners,” Kim said. “If we allocate these dollars now it will allow us in two months to ensure that there are additional street cleaning services on the ground.”

The budget committee will vote March 8 on the proposal.

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