More than clean

Newsom's aggressive "quality of life" push draws a backlash in the Mission District and elsewhere

Cleaner streets, crack-free sidewalks, an urban landscape unmarred by graffiti and made greener by leafy trees: that was the improved "quality of life" espoused by Mayor Gavin Newsom in his State of the City speech Oct. 26, 2006. And he's put resources into delivering that pretty picture, with increases to the Department of Public Works (DPW) budget and funds allocated for sidewalk revitalization and the citywide Clean Corridors campaign.

But the city's top-down approach to realizing the mayor's goals — and the apparent lack of consideration for the implications of those priorities among ordinary people — has created a backlash from affluent District 7 (where Sup. Sean Elsbernd is upset over the fines being doled out to property owners for cracked sidewalks) to the working-class Mission District (where an aggressive new street cleaning regime has been proposed).

"This is something that just dropped out of the blue, and I think it's unacceptable," Mission resident Peter Turner said at a Jan. 31 public hearing on the proposal to clean many streets in his neighborhood every weekday. "The city has shown a vast amount of disrespect to the Mission."

Others think there are more pressing problems.

"What is quality of life?" asked Vicki Rega, who lives at 21st and Bryant streets and spoke to the Guardian on her way out of the hearing. "Some trash on your street or a dead kid on your sidewalk?"

The signs started appearing a few weeks ago, posted on trees and lamp poles in the Mission. The type is a tiny 10-point font, often difficult to read through the plastic wrap that holds the paper to the pole. Even if you can make out the words, it's still pretty unclear that they announce a proposal to ramp up mechanical street cleaning — from as little as one day a week to as many as five.

"The signs were very, very confusing," said Eric Noble, a Shotwell Street resident who was further insulted that postings weren't made in Spanish and Chinese. "That's really unconscionable in the Mission."

Beyond warning residents of the radical change to their daily lives, the signs invited them to two public hearings to discuss the issue, on Jan. 31 and Feb. 5. The first hearing drew about 150 residents and frustration that the only sign of officialdom present was DPW representative Chris McDaniels, who was sitting alone behind a vast empty desk, taking notes.

"Who is deciding this issue, and why aren't they here to hear us?" Judith Berkowitz asked.

Attendees expressed anger at the process and annoyance that car-owning residents on dozens of city blocks east of Valencia Street and north of Cesar Chavez Street will face steep fines and be forced to scramble for new parking spots on a daily basis.

At the beginning of the meeting, the reasons for the change were introduced: illegal dumping in the area had doubled in one year, calls to the city's trash hotline 28-CLEAN had increased 18 percent from 2005 to 2006, and the sweeper truck in the Mission had been collecting huge amounts of trash.

"It's the sidewalks, not the streets," several speakers said. They pointed out that the trucks are more successful blowing trash around than sucking it up.