Tom Butt
  E-Mail Forum – 2020  
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  Street Sweeping
May 18, 2020

Item H-3 on the May 19 Agenda is to approve the installation of street sweeping signs in the Richmond Annex and Panhandle Annex. A number of people have emailed me protesting the plan.  I am hoping that you will reconsider. I am going to provide some history and context for this. A good place to start is my E-FORUM from 17 years ago when this all started, A Clean Sweep? March 23, 2003.

What I said then was:

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 simple truth is that voluntary compliance has not worked. The residents of two neighborhoods have placed the aesthetics of their streetscapes and their convenience above the water quality and health of San Francisco Bay. Many of the same people advocated for a ban on shipping coal based on environmental and health reasons, but that did not inconvenience them. When the City spends $1 million or more defending the coal lawsuits, there may, however, be some inconvenience as money is diverted from public safety, street maintenance and libraries.

Again, it’s not about signs. It’s not even about street sweeping. It’s about the environment, clean water and San Francisco Bay. We sweep the streets to reduce contaminants and pollution that otherwise would wash into the bay. Noticing and enforcement are required for an effective program. Every other neighborhood in Richmond that has curbs and gutters has street sweeping, signs and enforcement.

Here is some history:

In 1999, the City of Richmond was one of 20 public agencies that signed on to the Contra Costa Clean Water Program Stormwater Management Plan 1999-2004 in order to be in compliance with the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) requirements administered by the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board.

The plans states, “Each of the discharger is individually responsible for adopting and enforcing ordinance, implementing assigned BMPs [Best Management Practices} to prevent or reduce pollutants in stormwater, and providing funds for capital, operation, and maintenance expenditures necessary to implement such BMPs for the storm drain system that it owns and operates. Assigned BMPs to be implemented by each Discharger are listed as Performance Standards in the Plan. Enforcement actions concerning this order will, whenever necessary, be pursued only against the individual Discharger(s) responsible for specific violations of this order.”

Table 5-1, Municipal Maintenance Performance Standards includes 86 standards related to cleaning streets and street sweeping. Item “Muniu-8” states, “Each agency will discourage allowing residents to ‘opt out’ of its street sweeping program.”

The current permit continues to require Best Management Practices.

Street sweeping is an important pollution prevention function provided in our communities. It is required under State and Federal regulations related to the Clean Water Act. State stormwater regulations also require street sweeping as a component of our agency’s wastewater service programs in Antioch, Bay Point, and Pittsburg.

One of the best ways to prevent pollutants from entering our local waterways is to remove them from streets before wind, rain, and water carry them into the storm drain. Anything on the streets, sidewalks, parking lots, or driveway can wash into storm drains and is carried directly to local waterways and the Delta without treatment.

Street sweeping is particularly important during the winter months when we often experience our most heavy rainfall, which can result in debris blocking storm water facilities and causing local flooding. Equally important, but often less visible, is the safe removal of hazardous waste, such as metal particles, engine fluids, and motor oils, which are left by our vehicles every day and extremely harmful to our drinking water, fish, and wildlife in our local waterways.

Moving cars on your designated street sweeping day is an important way you can help reduce pollution from our waterways and storm drain system. 

In order to effectively sweep streets, cars have to be removed. The threat of fines and towing has proven to be the only effective means of insuring that streets are clear of vehicles on street sweeping days. The City cannot legally tow vehicles unless signs are posted.

An effective program must include:

  • Coordination with trash pickup schedules
  • A sweeping schedule that alternates days for each side of the street to minimize disruption.
  • Signage
  • Fines and towing

In 2002, the City updated its street sweeping program to be in compliance with Contra Costa Clean Water Program Stormwater Management Plan 1999-2004. After a number of residents protested, the City Council set up an opt-out program. Some residents argued that their neighborhoods would comply voluntarily through education and peer pressure. The plan was that if two-thirds of a neighborhood protested, the neighborhood would have no signs and no enforcement. 40,885 ballots were mailed to Richmond households, and 1,386 were returned. Based on the two-third rule, only Carriage Hills South qualified.  Even though the 2/3 protest threshold was not met, the City Council made an exception for the Richmond Annex-Panhandle Annex and Richmore Village because of political pressure.

Has the voluntary compliance worked? According to Public Works, it has not. Compliance is sketchy to non-existent. One resident wrote:

Habitually never moving cars in front of their house. Habitually never been ticketed by the police parking division I’m paying taxes for a service that I’m not getting due to the arrogance and disrespect that my neighbor show for my neighborhood. This is the second month in a row that this has happened. This is not the first incident over the past couple years it’s ongoing thing. I should get a refund or our street should. The police seem not to be able to rectify this matter. Hopefully you can

Protesters have also pointed out that street sweeping and the cost of new signs should be a low priority in these times of COVID-19. Public Works reports that “ all signs have been donated and are in stock, labor will be in house as times allowed, we have allocated one day a week for this program. The cost is basically for poles and brackets and cost could be less. If we contracted out, the cost is over $200K, and we have been trying to get this project done for several years but we never had the funding to it. Signs and spacing are standards for RPD to enforce it.
This is my best shot to get it done. Thanks