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A Clean Sweep?
March 23, 2003

I have forwarded all comments received in response to the March 9, 2003, E-FORUM “Street Sweeping Ballot Hits the Streets.” to the Richmond Public Services Department. Meanwhile, I have attempted to craft a general response to those who have offered their opinions and to propose some program guidelines and policy modifications that may render the overall program palatable to a majority of residents.

The recently circulated ballot generated a lot of criticism, and it probably would have been wise to have run it up the flagpole before mailing it. However, the program appears to be salvageable with some changes. Here are my comments and suggestions:


Some citizens and neighborhood groups have maintained that their streets are not dirty enough to require sweeping or that the neighbors, themselves, keep the streets clean

The cleanliness of a street may be more perception than fact. Everyone knows what a trashy street looks like, but the most damaging pollutants that originate on streets are those not readily observable, including such things as tire dust, brake dust and oil drippings from vehicles. One study claims that each tire loses about 6 pounds of rubber each year. Richmond has about 35,000 households, and if each household had only one vehicle that loses half its rubber in Richmond, that would produce 420,000 pounds of rubber annually that ends up in San Francisco Bay. This is known as “non-point source” (NPS) pollution, but when the runoff carrying it enters a storm drain system, it eventually becomes a “point source” that is regulated by the Federal Clean Water Act and Richmond’s National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program.

Citizens have legitimate concerns about many inconveniences related to a street sweeping programs, but we have to remember that, in the end, it's not about aesthetics, parking, or personal convenience; it's about the environment. If a voluntary parking management plan can achieve the same results as a mandatory one, then the objective is achieved. If not, then some neighborhoods may have opted for environmental degradation while others make the required sacrifices.

The administration’s benchmark of 80 percent compliance to maintain a voluntary parking management program seems reasonable.


The requirement for a 2/3 “protest” vote to opt out of mandatory parking management seems excessive. I recommend that it be reduced to 51 per cent. This is consistent with state law relating to the establishment of a benefit district, and it was the method used to ballot Richmond’s wastewater rate increases. There were many complaints about the appearance of the ballot -- how it resembled junk mail -- about the effectiveness of the distribution, and so forth. Sure, perhaps it could have been done better, but those neighborhoods that have strong feelings on the subject are well-organized and can probably compensate for any shortcomings through outreach, activism and community organizations. It doesn't make sense to me to go through the time and expense of doing it all over again at this point.


The administration’s program for small signs on neighborhood streets and larger signs on arterials seems reasonable, as does the plan to utilize existing utility or other poles for mounting. If three signs per block on each side of the street is not a legal requirement for enforcement, then a reduction to two signs, one near each end of the block, would seem reasonable where residents appear to be offended by the signs.


Streets in neighborhoods with any significant level of on-street parking should be swept on alternate days for each side of the street. In some neighborhoods, parking flexibility to sweep both sides of the street simultaneously simply doesn't exist. In others, such as some of the newer El Sobrante Valley developments, this will probably not be a problem.

Also, in older neighborhoods with dense on-street parking, sweeping should take place only between the hours of 9:00 AM and 4:00 PM, preferably within a four-hour block. This is a pattern used by many cities, and it seems to work well. This is a period when the maximum number of people will be at work, at school or doing errands and when people who stay home should be able to find a parking place somewhere besides in front of their home once a month.

Ideally, sweeping schedules should coincide with garbage collection.