San Jose struggling to meet spike in trash clean-up requests

The cleanliness of San Jose consistently ranks very poorly in resident surveys, pushing city leaders to ramp up efforts to combat blight, litter and graffiti — including a new app to report such nuisances.

But the new technology backfired. The demand for clean-up services has soared and San Jose doesn’t have the staff or equipment to handle the influx of new requests, according to a new report headed to the City Council on Tuesday.

Staffing and equipment resources to handle illegal dumping “were strained by the substantial increase in demand for clean-ups coming from the mySanJose platforms and response times were negatively impacted,” the report said.

Since the launch of the app that allows residents to report trash and dump sites, requests have doubled and a team of six maintenance workers can no longer meet a four-to-five day response time. And, the report said, this new focus on clearing dump sites reported by residents has led to city workers no longer proactively cleaning up known hot spots — areas where trash often accumulates — without a complaint.

In 2016-2017, city maintenance workers cleaned 526 self-discovered dump sites around the city littered by mattresses, furniture, trash, human waste and more. But the following year, workers cleared just 170 non-reported sites — a whopping 68 percent decrease.

And the app is only available in English, making it difficult for residents in minority neighborhoods to report trash and receive clean-up services.

Councilmembers Sergio Jimenez and Maya Esparza recommended translating the app and other educational materials to Vietnamese and Spanish, in addition to allocating more money to vulnerable neighborhoods for dumpster days.

“This leads to the conclusion that diverse communities with language barriers are disproportionately impacted and not receiving an adequate share of resources,” the duo wrote in a memo, adding that more than half of the households in San Jose speak a language other than English at home.

San Jose officials are also issuing more fines for people caught illegally dumping trash. In 2016-2017, eight administrative citations and 66 warning notices were issued. Staff handed out 23 administrative citations and 69 warning notices the following year.

The report on beautifying San Jose, which will be presented to the City Council on Tuesday, raised another concern. Although San Jose is pouring resources into abatement and clean-up programs, not much is being done to change residents’ behavior to prevent illegal dumping, graffiti and littering.

“To have sustainable impact on the current blight issues, there needs to be a focus on behavior change,” wrote Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services Director Jon Cicirelli, Department of Transportation Director John Ristow and Environmental Services Director Kerrie Romanow in a joint memo. “All the current programs aligned with the BeautifySJ Initiative employs an abatement-only strategy with very little outreach or education aimed at changing/modifying behavior as it pertains to blight throughout the City.”

Sites across San Jose littered with mattresses, trash and furniture. Photo by Ramona Giwargis.

Cleaning up San Jose has been a major priority for Mayor Sam Liccardo who launched a “BeautifySJ” initiative in 2017 to tackle blight, trash, graffiti and illegal dumping. The plan called for working with other governmental agencies to address blight on freeways and along waterways, while also devoting additional city funds to beautification efforts.

For the past five years, less than 20 percent of residents surveyed about city services said San Jose is clean to their satisfaction.

City elected leaders allocated $1 million per year for two years for street landscape maintenance, $300,000 for grants to neighborhood associations for clean-up efforts, money for 22 new murals across the city and a pair of new positions in the anti-litter program.

The city’s in-house landscape staff was responsible for 242 acres citywide, taking 18 months to complete basic maintenance in every city council district. The $2 million allocation allowed the city to shift more than half the landscaping work to outside contractors.

Also on Tuesday, councilors will receive a report on city-funded expanded learning and after school programs. These are city-sponsored programs that serve youth during times when they are not in “formal academic environments,” city officials said.

The City Council will consider adopting California Afterschool Network Quality Standards, which ensure program quality.

“City-sponsored afterschool and summer programs already reach an estimated 30,000 youth annually,” wrote city librarian Jill Bourne in a memo. “With students spending 80% of their time outside of the classroom, primarily during afterschool and summertime, it is key that all City-sponsored programs are of high quality, with well-trained staff and built-in assessments to ensure best practices of holistic education are implemented as fully as possible.”

The City Council meets 1:30 p.m. Tuesday inside the council chambers at City Hall, 200 East Santa Clara Street in San Jose.

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