For the Betterment of the City

Last year September 2013 San Francisco implemented a new cleaning policy in which the sidewalks on Market Street are sprayed with drinking water five times per week, four hours per day. Operations start at 4:30 am each morning, and require that the homeless people who sleep on Market Street’s sidewalks to wake up and move their belongings so that water trucks may begin spraying down their areas.

The homeless on Market say that this new sidewalk cleaning policy has resulted in sleep deprivation which has led to associated health complications. Many homeless don’t have another place to go: all of San Francisco’s shelter beds are full, and the reservation waitlist for a bed was 619 people long as of yesterday, August 13th.

Earlier this year, representatives from San Francisco’s Department of Public Works (DPW) met with representatives from the Coalition on Homelessness in order to evaluate the effects of the Market Street sidewalk cleaning policy. Currently, Municipal Police Code Sections 22-24 does not prohibit homeless individuals from sitting or lying on a public sidewalk between the hours of 11:01 p.m. and 6:59 a.m, which means that when homeless people on Market Street are woken up and moved each morning prior to at 4:30 am, they are being done so illegally.

“We wanted to present them (DPW) with alternative considerations,” said director of the Coalition, Jennifer Friedenbach. “We wanted to address the homeless people’s concerns. But they (DPW) came into the meeting very antagonistic and were unwilling to consider other options.”

According to Ms. Friedenbach, when the Coalition mentioned that many homeless people had voiced concern that the Market Street sweeps were hurting their sleep and, thus, their health, a DPW representative replied, “We aren’t going to stop.”

National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Policy Analyst, Tracy Quinn, hoped for more. “I’d recommend the City (and DPW) evaluate the potential for using non-potable alternatives, such as captured rain water or recycled water, instead of drinking water,” said Ms. Quinn. “Although recycled water is prohibited for use in steamer trucks, recycled water is currently used by traditional street sweeping trucks in other California cities like Los Angeles and Long Beach and therefore should be included in an assessment of best management practice alternatives.”

The entity that regulates water usage in San Francisco, the San Francisco Public Utilities Council, is supporting DPWs daily usage of drinking water to clean San Francisco. SFPUC representative Charles Sheehan said: “We are working extensively with DPW to cut back water usage.”

In total, DPW uses approximately 18,000 gallons per day of treated drinking water, or 6.5 Million gallons per year, for sidewalk and street cleaning. When asked why Market Street’s sidewalk cleaning policy was implemented during California’s driest year on record, San Francisco Department of Public Works (DPW) officials replied, “For the betterment of the City.”

“Public Works will continue to need to clean the sidewalks for health and safety purposes,” said DPW spokesperson, Mindy Linetzky. “The spraying of the sidewalks is necessary due to the presence of urine and feces.”

But, according to DPWs Street and Sidewalk Annual Report 2009-10, 70.6 percent of Market Street’s sidewalks passed cleanliness inspection standards, which was 15% higher than the rest of the San Francisco’s sidewalks, which had a 55.4% pass rate. No annual reports since 2010 have been issued to the public.

Also, in response to DPWs claim that the Market Street cleaning policy was implemented for health reasons, observers noted that the new policy uses a predetermined path rather than a response to the presence of urine and feces. Operations begin at the same location, at the same time, and follow the same route each day. Prior to the new cleaning policy, in order to conserve resources like potable water and employee time, sidewalks were cleaned after receiving notification calls that could be responded to at a specific, known location.

Because Market Street was already cleaner than the rest of the City, and because the cleaning follows a predetermined path along heavily populated homeless areas, some city residents have suggested that the new sidewalk cleaning policy was implemented not to improve Market’s cleanliness, but rather to remove homeless people in order to allow morning commuters a more visually pleasing walk into work.

When asked if City of San Francisco officials were influenced to begin this sidewalk cleaning process last year by the influx of news private businesses on Market Street, such as Salesforce, DPW said: “Residents, workers, businesses called in service requests; Public Works responded with more proactive cleanups.”

More proactive cleanups along Market Street will continue tomorrow 4:30 am sharp.