San Francisco Mayor Targets Dirty Streets with $12.8 Million ‘Cleanup' Plan, Recounts Stepping on Needle

In an exclusive interview with the Investigate Unit, Mayor Mark Farrell discussed his new proposal to reduce the amount of trash, feces, and needles scattered throughout San Francisco

Mayor Mark Farrell, just three months into his tenure, is unveiling a $12.8 million plan to clean up the streets and sidewalks of San Francisco.

“Last year, I stepped on a needle on my way back to city hall,” he told the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit in an exclusive interview. "I went back and made sure it didn't pierce through my shoe and it didn't...I’m sick and tired – as I believe residents of San Francisco are.”

Farrell wants to boost San Francisco’s street cleaning crew by nearly 20 percent to reduce the amount of trash, feces, and needles littering the city.  The additional 44 workers, four for each of the city's 11 Supervisorial districts, would be assigned to the highest need areas based on the advice and feedback Supervisors provide to the Public Works department.

The mayor's proposal, which spans the next two years, also includes $3.4 million in new street cleaning equipment.

“When you see human feces and the smell of urine on the streets … that’s disgusting,” he said. “The anxiety of the people living in San Francisco continues to grow on this issue, and the tide is turning.”

The mayor's announcement comes after the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit exposed a potentially dangerous mix of trash, needles and feces scattered across parts of downtown San Francisco.  The findings went viral and gained international attention after the story grabbed headlines across several major media outlets.

Farrell’s proposal calls for expanding the operating hours of five staffed restrooms in the city, known as Pit Stops, as well as opening five new facilities, bringing the total number of restrooms in the program to 23.

San Francisco has nearly 300 public restrooms, but about 70 percent are not open overnight, according to a report by the Controller’s Office.

“The conditions of our streets right now are unacceptable,” he said. “[I] share the frustration that everybody’s feeling & believe that should be our priority for our city.”

On Monday, the mayor announced plans to hire 10 workers solely focused on cleaning up used needles across the San Francisco.

The city will provide $750,000 to the AIDS Foundation to hire the new needle cleanup team.  The Public Health department, which already employs four workers dedicated to picking up used needles, will manage the new team.

San Francisco Mayor Mark Farrell (April 24, 2018).

Mayor proposes $12.8 million increase for 'street cleaning'

The mayor's latest street cleaning plan, which he intends to unveil during a press conference Wednesday afternoon, adds $12.8 million, over the next two years, to the city’s street cleaning budget, which has nearly doubled in the last five years from $33.4 million to $65.4 million.

At a recent budget committee hearing, the city’s financial analysts raised concerns over the department’s ballooning budget.

“It’s unclear what’s going on with the performance measures,” said Dan Goncher, senior manager for the city’s Budget Legislative Analyst Office, who addressed members of the Board of Supervisors during the April 12 hearing. “There are some concerns over the methodology," he said, adding that service requests for street cleaning have continued to rise over the past few years.

Farrell is now defending Public Works, saying he is “absolutely” confident the department is running properly.

“I really think the men and women picking up needles, picking up feces, cleaning up the urination – this is tough work,” he said.  “I think we need to fund more of them to make our streets cleaner.”

In addition to detailing his street cleaning plan Wednesday, the mayor also intends to veto Supervisor Jane Kim's recent $1.1 million street cleaning proposal.

The money, left over from last year’s budget, would have been used to pay for additional street sweepers, cleaning equipment, and community grants to fund nonprofit organizations focused on cleaning San Francisco.

While the board of supervisors passed the proposal in a narrow 6 to 5 vote, the mayor criticized the plan as a haphazard, temporary fix that focuses on Kim's own district rather than addressing street cleaning citywide.  While Kim's proposal does include $230,000 in grants for nonprofits focused on cleaning up the Tenderloin, which is in her district, she had previously argued the Public Works department could decide how best to spend the remaining funds.

NBC Bay Area
Trash found on the corner of Ellis and O'Farrell Streets in downtown San Francisco (Jan. 5, 2018).

Mayor's 'cleanup' proposal would take effect July 1

The mayor intends to present his full city budget to the Board of Supervisors by June 1 for approval.

The new spending plan takes effect on July 1, the start of the fiscal year. 

“We are going to put our money where our mouth is as a city and make the residents of our city know we are focusing on these issues,” he said. “As mayor, I’m going to focus on that, and we’re going to see a difference on our streets moving forward.”


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