Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced a new initiative to respond to trash and debris in public spaces, but she will require help from the City Council to get it funded.
In a release put out the evening of Nov. 4, Durkan proposed a $5.6 million plan that would expand existing programs for eight months and create Community Clean Teams for four months to get trash buildup under control and maintain parks. Other efforts already underway would continue with existing resources.
The idea is to “surge” the city with cleaning operations in response to an increase in debris and dumping reported by Seattle Public Utilities (SPU). Data from the SPU’s Illegal Dumping program showed a 195% increase in the amount of material collected between the second and third quarters of 2020.
“Our parks have become an important refuge for Seattle residents during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is critical we keep our parks and playgrounds safe and accessible for all,” Durkan said in a statement.
The City Council is in the middle of its 2021 budget negotiations, which began public meetings again on Nov. 10 after forming the budget rebalancing package. This $5.6 million would have to fit into an already difficult budget year along with adjustments to the 2020 budget that the council approved in October. The impact of the coronavirus on the local economy has deprived local governments across the board of needed tax revenue even as they spend additional funds to ameliorate the effects of the virus on their residents.
Budget Chair Teresa Mosqueda noted that some of the investments in the Clean Cities Initiative were similar to those in the rebalancing package presented on Nov. 10, while Councilmember Debora Juarez emphasized her support for trash and debris abatement.
“We are working together with the executive to get this done,” Juarez said.
The programs under the eight-month expansion include increasing litter abatement routes, an SPU program to pick up trash from unauthorized encampments, needle disposal boxes for hypodermic needles, graffiti abatement for public spaces and private properties and grants to business improvement areas for contracted cleaning in impacted areas.
The new Community Clean Teams would put 14 to 16 staff members into specific areas of the city for 40 hours per week to deal with dumping, graffiti and trash in public areas.
Many of these efforts rely on the Find It, Fix It app, which allows people to use a smart phone to report perceived problems in the city such as potholes, trash accumulation and, controversially, homeless encampments and vehicle residents.
Concerns over the app jumped up when posters appeared in the Capitol Hill area encouraging people to report homeless people living outside. People who are against sweeps retaliated by reporting tents at REI, which is Seattle’s ubiquitous Recreational Equipment, Inc. And, because the app knows no geographical boundaries, people from around the world reported tents in other countries.
None of the Clean Cities efforts would involve encampment removal, according to the proposal. At least two, however, would build off of existing programs supported by councilmembers: specifically, Councilmember Tammy Morales’ “purple bag program,” in which SPU drops off purple garbage bags to unauthorized encampments and retrieves them to clear out accumulated trash, and a hypodermic needle collection program.
Durkan’s proposal includes a $200,000 expansion to the purple bag program, planning to double the number of served sites from 17 to 34. Morales has already proposed a $286,000 expansion to the program in the 2021 budget — increasing the number of sites by 13 — with a request that some extra service come to her district in South Seattle.
The difference seems to stem from the length of time that the new sites would be serviced under the plan, according to Morales’ office.
The needle program would cost $35,000 and add another 10 sharps disposal boxes to the existing eight. Those boxes are serviced by SPU, which also responds to reports from the Find It, Fix It app.
The largest add, by far, is for the Community Clean Teams: $4,159,000. Those teams would also rely on the app to respond to “hotspots” in the city.
Things that won’t require budget wrangling include a Seattle Parks and Recreation (SPR) quick response team intended to respond to abandoned trash in parks “while ensuring personal property is inspected.” The theory is that some garbage in public spaces isn’t generated by people experiencing homelessness, but rather by housed people — something Erica C. Barnett of PubliCola has reported on in the past.
If that team sounds duplicative to the Community Clean Team, it is. The Community Clean Team would take over that function should they launch in December.
Then there are the jauntily named SPR Maintenance Jamborees, which would be weekly efforts by staff to “deep clean” the parks, such as cleaning up walkways and trimming hedges.
The last pre-planned item is new trash containers and other disposal facilities in parks. Staff estimate that 10% of parks currently have encampments.
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC.
Read more of the Nov. 11-17, 2020 issue.