It was June of 2007, when then-San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom declared "We have too many garbage cans in the city," and ordered SF's Department of Public Works to remove half of the city's on-street trash containers. The cans' removal, Newsom said, would help "reduce litter in the city by 50 percent over the next five years," the Chron reported at the time. My friends, that didn't happen — and now the city is returning cans to one busy SF corridor, at a hefty price.
From the moment Newsom issued his edict, saying "I'm still pro-garbage can...I'm just not pro-400 garbage cans in four blocks," the first term Mayor was under attack, with then-Richmond District Supervisor Jake McGoldrick sneering "What's next? Is he going to stop street sweepers from coming around because people are throwing their trash in the street? I don't understand the rationale."
McGoldrick wasn't the only critic of the policy — as my SFist co-founding-writer Rita Hao mused at the time, "Why don't they just have rule-breakers get garbage service, but also leave some trash cans outside for folks like us who want to throw our finished cup of Mitchell's Mexican Chocolate ice cream away without going back into the store?"
The rationale, it seemed, was that pulling the cans would curb illegal dumping from scofflaws the city can't catch. As Newsom said when announcing the program, “We want there to be room in the garbage cans, and there’s often not. They’re overflowing because other residents are using them inappropriately," the Ex reported in 2007.
According to then-DPW director Fred Abadi they "removed trash cans from places where they were being misused, underused or where there were more than enough," the Ex reported at the time. "The status quo is not working,” Mayoral spokesperson Nate Ballard said at the time. “This is a program that deserves a chance.”
And a chance it received — nearly a decade-long chance, as DPW continued to cut the city's then-5,000 cans to the 3,200 we have today. But Tuesday DPW trumpeted a so-called "Yes We Can! Project" via press release (I uploaded the whole thing for you to read here), in which the department will bring 38 new bins back to Mission Street between 14th and Cesar Chavez Streets, putting the new total along that stretch to 73.
“It is one of our top priorities to keep our streets and neighborhoods clean and livable,” Lee said in the release (which did not mention the policies of our now-Lt. Gov AT ALL). “To help maintain the beautiful nature of our city, we continue to explore different strategies, such as the Fix-It initiative and the Yes We Can pilot program, to help our thriving and active corridors.”
Because, you guys, it apparently took the city ten years to figure out that people who illegally dump their trash in city cans will (gasp) just dump it on the street if no can is available. Who on earth could have predicted that. Also:
As long ago as 2009, Mission Local suggested that the can removal plan wasn't working in their coverage area of the Mission District. In a report from September of that year, they wrote that "a new litter study by the Department of Public Works is expected to demonstrate only a slight improvement" and that people continue to "leave their garbage in public trashcans along the street, or in other people’s bins...with fewer cans on the street, more trash is likely to end up around them." This is borne out by the Chron, which reports this week that "In 2016, more than 5,800 complaints about overflowing garbage cans came into the city’s 311 service portal. Of those, 445, or nearly 8 percent, came from the Mission."
Will those 38 new cans along Mission help reduce those calls, if for no other reason than now illegal dumpers have a can in which to dump? It's obviously too soon to say, and DPH says they program is just a six-month pilot. According to Mission Local, "Public Works will also monitor the program’s effectiveness by tracking 311 service requests and using on-site evaluations to determine whether the additional cans actually result in less street-dumping and littering. If successful, the program will likely be implemented in other other neighborhoods."
That implementation, in the Mission or beyond, will come at a price: the Chron reports that each new can costs the city $1,600 to install. A drop in the bucket given our overall operating budget, but still tooth-gnashing when you think about how, if we'd just kept all the cans there in the first place ten freakin' years ago, we wouldn't be spending a dime.
Related: In Confusing Bid To Reduce Litter, National Park Service Pulls Ocean Beach Trash Cans