The latest boondoggle at City Hall involves a longstanding project to replace the city's street trash receptacles, and this week a Board of Supervisors committee approved a proposal to manufacture 15 prototype trash cans for testing on the street later this year. But because they're custom designs, each prototype comes at a hefty price.
San Francisco typically can't make anything easy if its life depended on it, and this trash can project is no exception. At issue is a broadly agreed-upon hatred for the round, dark green, sort of historic-looking trashcans with the always busted top sections for recycling, which date back to 1993. Supervisors blame these easily broken and pilfer-from cans for all the extra litter on city streets, which may or may not be based in reality.
And, of course, the continued use of these trash cans seems to have a link to the Mohammed Nuru scandal — as the Chronicle notes via Supervisor Matt Haney, the former head of Public Works pushed back on efforts to put new trash cans on the street and approved a $5.2 million contract with a company called Alternative Choice LLC, which is tied to a family member of disgraced city contractor Walter Wong who last year pleaded guilty to money laundering and fraud charges.
So, under a new Public Works chief, Acting Director Alaric Degrafinried, the city is contracting with Oakland-based industrial design firm ICI (Institute for Creative Integration) to create the prototypes. The department took input from the public and the SF Arts Commission to whittle down the possibilities to three finalist models, shown below.
Each prototype has its pros and cons, with the "Salt & Pepper" model offering the same small upper bin for recyclables as the city's existing cans. The "Slim Silhouette" model may work better for narrower sidewalks and offers a recycling orifice that won't be as easily reached-into as the existing model. And the "Soft Square" offers a handled door to access chutes for trash and recycling.
As the Chronicle explained when the trash can finalists were first unveiled last September, aesthetics are only one criterion on which the receptacles will be judged. Each model needs to have a sturdy, hinged door that can be locked and accessed by Recology; and each has to have a rolling, removable bin inside that can be loaded onto Recology's automatic emptier mechanism on its trucks.
But, with each model costing between $12,000 and $20,000 apiece to produce, you end up with headlines like this from KTVU and this from the Chronicle — which are misleading if only because the ultimate per-can pricetag will likely be much cheaper once they are being mass-produced.
As the Chronicle reports, the city has already moved on from using the solar-powered compactor cans from Bigbelly, 150 of which now dot the Tenderloin thanks in part to the community benefit district there. Public Works say those cans, which cost around $4,000 apiece, break too easily and don't fit the Recology criteria above — also, Nuru was dead-set against them, possibly for the aforementioned corruption reason.
When the testing phase of the cans begins in November, trash cans that have already been mass produced for other cities will be tried out alongside the three custom protytpes, five of each of which are to be produced by ICI.
The trash can proposal, which still needs to go before the full board for approval, has a $537,000 price tag, which includes the 15 prototypes, 10 rolling inner bins, purchasing the existing models from elsewhere, and management of the project.
"$20,000 a can is ridiculous," Haney tells the Chronicle, but he says he voted in favor of advancing the proposal in the interest of time.
"Our streets and our sidewalks are a mess and the cans we have out there now are actually part of the problem," he says. "At this point they’ve already come up with designs, we won’t save time now to go backwards, but it’s really frustrating that they chose this route."
Existing trash can models from other cities would cost between $3,000 and $5,000 apiece, but Public Works staff has said that most are either too large for our sidewalks, or they have openings that are too easily reached-into.
No doubt the price tag will come up when then full board takes up the proposal.