News

Palo Alto streets could be swept less often

Palo Alto hopes to lower costs by reducing frequency of sweeping and contracting out work

The city's Finance Committee tonight will discuss a plan to modify Palo Alto's street-sweeping program in order to cut costs.

The plan proposes the city contract out some parts of the work as well as cut down on sweeping in non-retail areas from weekly to once every other week during the "non-leaf season," which is typically March to October.

These modifications could potentially eliminate seven full-time staff positions and save the city $413,000, a staff report states.

The savings would be funneled into the city's Refuse Fund Reserves, which supports street sweeping as well as garbage collection and disposal, recycling, household hazardous waste and other services. According to the staff report, the Refuse Fund has operated with a negative-rate stabilization reserve in the last few years.

The street-sweeping program costs approximately $2.2 million of the $30 million total Refuse Budget and accounts for approximately one-half of the full-time staff positions. The overall program is made up of various smaller operations, including the cleaning of bike paths, dead ends, parking lots, sidewalks, etc.

An analysis of the program conducted late last year indicated that contracting out the main street-sweeping operation (which is performed by large sweepers) and reducing the frequency of sweeping during certain months of the year could significantly lower costs. All in-house work currently costs $1,074,000; the proposed program would reduce that to $956,000 and contract out $661,000 worth of work.

The city ran a pilot version of the proposed program earlier this year, reducing the frequency of street sweeping in sections of Midtown, Old Palo Alto, Stanford Research Park and other areas.

The pilot demonstrated that the program works "without adverse impacts to he public of the environment," the staff report reads.

Most cities in the area, including Menlo Park and Mountain View, already sweep residential streets once every two weeks.

The proposed changes would also lessen future rate increases for residential and commercial customers, the staff report reads.

Under the proposed plan, parking lots, bike paths, dead-ends and downtown sidewalks would continue to be swept weekly by city staff; downtown and California Avenue would be swept three times per week through contracts; and all materials management (i.e. hauling leaf litter or debris) would be contracted out. City staff would no longer sweep El Camino Real for Caltrans.

If approved by the City Council, the program could be implemented next August.

City street sweepers, however, are holding a protest Dec. 3 at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall to oppose the proposed plan.

"Quality services and public safety are not the business priority of any contractor," Margaret Adkins, programs assistant in the Public Works Department, stated in a press release. "We know the quality of services provided to our community will suffer."

Comments

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 3, 2013 at 9:28 am

It is about time street sweeping policies were investigated.

How many residents actually know which day is their street sweeping day? How many residents remember to take their cars off the street on their street sweeping day? How often do the street sweepers arrive before 8.00 am when cars that are moved in time have not yet done so? How many signs are there in Palo Alto which state when the streets are swept? After all, it is not only homeowners who may be parked blocking the street sweepers. How many cars parked illegally on street sweeping day ever get a ticket?

My street, probably fairly typical, has some cars parked on street sweeping days every week and there are various spots on the street that are never swept as a consequence.

If they are going to look at how often the sweets are swept to save money, they should also look to see how effective and efficient the streets are swept.


Posted by resident, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 3, 2013 at 9:58 am

I think even once a month is fine during the "non-leaf season", as long as gardeners put their refuse in the bins instead of piling it in the street.

I agree that the media really needs to emphasize that people move their cars on street sweeping days to make this job more efficient (cheaper and more effective) during the fall and winter. Clogged storm drains = street flooding.

Look up your street sweeping day here: Web Link


Posted by Elizabeth, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 3, 2013 at 10:19 am

I haven't seen them in so long I thought they'd stopped years ago!


Posted by resident, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 3, 2013 at 10:31 am

I see (and hear) them almost every week during the rainy season. I'm pretty sure they were already skipping weeks during the summer.


Posted by Garden Gnome, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 3, 2013 at 10:57 am

If you call the municipality (Steve, I believe), they'll put up no-parking signs for the forthcoming street sweep. Otherwise they just do a great job sweeping the middle of the street.

I like the proposal - anything that helps ensure the city workers eventually get their pensions.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 3, 2013 at 10:59 am

Within the last year the City added a street sweeping charge to our utility bills. There is no mention of this revenue in the article. Without both the costs and the revenues being considered, the numbers are not as accurate as they could be. This charge is likely to go up every year--and at the same time we are being told to expect less in the way of street sweeping for that money.

> The savings would be funneled into the city's Refuse Fund Reserves

Seems that the City is planning to pocket the "savings". Why not reduce the monthly charge, so that any reduction in street sweeping services doesn't cost the homeowner more money?



Posted by Enough!, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Dec 3, 2013 at 11:23 am

Weird. The story below this one says that the City revenue is downright "sizzling" yet they are going to cut back on street sweeping?


Posted by Ralph, a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 3, 2013 at 11:28 am

Instead of "Every other Monday," it would be easier to know when to move your car if the schedule were "1st and 3rd Mondays of each month," and it would save a little bit more.


Posted by livingdtn, a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 3, 2013 at 11:53 am

Well it is obvious that you aren't aware of the tuesday weekly street cleaning in downtown north. The city makes so much revenue with tickets in our area, I can't believe they are charging. They put one sign up in the beginning of the street and if you happen to miss it then you park on the wrong side you will get a ticket.


Posted by Don, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 3, 2013 at 12:13 pm


Our monthly charges should be cut in half if they do this. Insulting to be still charged the full amount, and not acceptable.

My neighbors like to park in front of my house, so their curb gets swept on Fridays, and mine doesn't. With the proposed plan, my curb may never get swept again. There have to be signs and no-parking-on-street-sweeping-days, like in grownup, sensible cities.


Posted by Herb Borock, a resident of Professorville
on Dec 3, 2013 at 12:19 pm

Monthly residential refuse bills now include a charge of $6.66 for street sweeping.

Nobody can be charged a higher refuse fee than the cost of the service they are receiving. If $6.66 per month is the cost for weekly street sweeping, then customers in the trial area should be charged only $3.33 per month for street sweepingevery two weeks.

Public Works is wrong if they believe that the new street sweeping schedule will save the city $413,000 a year. If the cost of street sweeping is reduced by that amount, then the customers bills must be reduced by that amount.

Of course the refuse bills can always stay the same if $413,000 is need for some zero waste project.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 3, 2013 at 12:20 pm

With the advent of driverless vehicles within the decade, there is no reason that much, if not all, of the street sweeping could not be done by robotic/autonomous controlled vehicles--removing the labor costs for the drivers.



Posted by Marie, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 3, 2013 at 12:24 pm

Marie is a registered user.

What would it cost to reduce street sweeping to biweekly without outsourcing the work? Would outsourcing simply mean replacing people who actually work with another program manager earning megabucks to "manage" the program?

It is ironic that the city administration is proposing cutting yet again another service, after adding a special charge for the service and when revenue to the city is up.


Posted by Kate, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 3, 2013 at 1:29 pm

Most assured that the staff and managers who have come up with this idea do NOT live here. Then in the same
on-line "news", we are told that the city is getting much more money due to increasing property tax revenue. i don't like hypocrisy like this. A growing number of residents seem to be fed up with City Hall and its policies. City Hall is all for the City Hall and not the residents welfare. The next council election can't come too soon. Let's hope that resident-oriented candidates come forward.


Posted by JA3+, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 3, 2013 at 1:33 pm

Every other week during non-leaf season seems reasonable.

During leaf season, however, the City needs to sweep once a week; City street trees simply generate a lot of debris. But, by my rough estimate, leaf season is relatively short.

Without any doubt, the City should install signs prohibiting street parking during certain hours on street sweeping days. Many, many other municipalities do so. Use the ticket revenue to off-set the sweeping cost.


Posted by Concerend, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 3, 2013 at 1:45 pm

This is a basic service that needs to continue especially at this time of year! For once, let's put some thought and flexibility into a plan that has our streets swept once a week during those seasons that require it and less often during those that don't! A little thought can go a long way!


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 3, 2013 at 1:53 pm

> For once, let's put some thought and flexibility into a plan that
> has our streets swept once a week during those seasons that require it

Private sector street sweeping services are available:

Web Link

So, there is no reason that a private sector street sweeping service could not be called upon for brief periods to provide extra equipment/labor to get the leaves removed during the brief period in the fall before the rains come. The City knows where the trouble spots are (poor drainage), so getting the leaves removed from those areas in a timely fashion isn't rocket science.


Posted by Sweep the streets, please., a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 3, 2013 at 1:57 pm

Weekly street sweeping is important because debris in our streets that gets into the storm drains goes to the Bay--where it pollutes. Also, this time of year the large quantity of leaf debris can stop up street drains, causing flooding. Reducing sweeping may sound like it is saving money until YOUR house is the one that is flooded during a storm. Finally, piles of leaves on the street are an obstacle and slippery safety hazard to bicyclists and autos.

Sweep the streets, please.


Posted by Canuck, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 3, 2013 at 4:11 pm

What? They only sweep my street twice a year, at best!


Posted by Jim, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 3, 2013 at 5:01 pm

"Leaf season" starts in September. When I was a laborer for the city we had large leaf piles starting in early to mid-September


Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 3, 2013 at 6:15 pm

Herb Borack discerned what is really going on. The city will take the funds saved by reducing the street sweeping, and use it to fund the studies & implementation of the compost factory, instead of reducing the charge on our utility bills for the specific service; they will claim it's all under "refuse service fee".

Given the insurrection on Measure D, and the upcoming election in 2014, the city doesn't want to bring up any additional charges to fund the compost factory at this time.


Posted by resident, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 3, 2013 at 7:29 pm

Leaf season is not "relatively short". Around here, leaves start piling up in September and tree debris continues through the end of the rainy season (which is at least March and sometimes April or even May). Cutting back on street cleaning during the rest of the year is fine with me, but realistically that is only 5 months or so.


Posted by Annette, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 3, 2013 at 9:23 pm

Leaves aren't the only things in the streets which need sweeping. My street seems to always have a house under construction, and the workers leave trash in front of my house when they eat their lunch or whatever. Sometimes kids on their way to or from school leave wrappers. I don't like having to clean up after them, especially when the city forces me to pay THEY to do it. If a business charges you for a service they don't perform, that is a crime, but if the Palo Alto government does it, we are supposed to smile and pay up. I don't want to.


Posted by Dave, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 3, 2013 at 10:04 pm

The part everyone is missing is that the city continues to hire managers and other expensive non essential staff. But the people who do the actual work and do not receive these high salaries are the one's getting laid off. Street sweepers who work for the city have a vested interest in the city and tend to be more observant of the neighborhoods they service and the people around. For me, they are like my postman, I appreciate the extra eyes on the street and the service they provide. Stop eliminating services we taxpayers pay for, and stop adding $150,000 non-essential positions that do nothing for us.

7 positions eliminated barely equal 2 positions that the managers office adds to the payroll


Posted by Resident, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 3, 2013 at 10:05 pm

The pilot demonstrated that the program works "without adverse impacts to he public of the environment," the staff report reads. I'm wondering how this was determined? I, for one, have ended up having to sweep the leaves in front of my house and by our city drain much more often with the revised every other week schedule. Our street is lined with magnolia trees (city-owned)whose leaf season is just about year round!


Posted by Old Palo Alto Resident, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 4, 2013 at 8:55 am

I have called Steve Banks (Street Sweeping) 650-496-5932 regarding missed sweep days several times over the last few years. The crew has not showed up every week and you can count on them not coming on a holiday week. Steve would always tell me that someone is out that week and I would always joke that they are making a three day weekend into a week off. It is not much of a joke unfortunately, this has been the pattern for many years. We did not have our regular weekly sweeping yesterday, oh yes, last week was Thanksgiving so someone in that department extended the weekend into this week. I have a gardener, my retired neighbor next to me does not, so I end up paying my gardener extra $10/month to extend leaf blowing to include the front of my neighbor's house. I am all in favor of cutting the city service if my street sweeping city fee is reduced. They are not doing the job already so nothing will really change.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 4, 2013 at 9:02 am

I happen to think that they do an excellent job in leaf season on my street. I agree that they don't always keep to the sweeping schedule during these weeks, but the roadsweeper comes back and forth several times, not just the sides of the streets but the center also, the leaves are left in a large pile and then there is a scraper attachment fitted and it returns with a garbage truck and all the leaves are lifted by the scraper into the garbage truck. The fact that several vehicles and several personnel involved means that a weekly sweep this time of year all over the city would be difficult.

The real problem of clearing the leaves is that vehicles are parked on the streets which makes it difficult to clear under them.

And, did you know, that you are not supposed to clear your yards or driveways of leaves into the street? They are supposed to be put into your green bins. Even city trees that drop leaves onto your property should not be swept, raked or blown into the street!


Posted by Christine Czarnecki, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 4, 2013 at 11:01 am

The proposed biweekly schedule assumes that we all have standard varieties of deciduous trees. We don't. Many of us in Midtown have specimen Camphor trees which are broadleaf evergreens and change out their leaves in the spring. When the camphors are changing their leaves, it looks like autumn in Vermont on our streets. At that time of the year, you can rake the leaves and a few hours later, the lawn looks like you never did a thing. A two week wait would allow a build up of mountains of leaves, not a little dusting.

Following the leaf change, we have the flowering with its gritty pollen and blossom drop, and then the most trying season, the drop of the black camphor berries all over the streets and sidewalks. I can assure you, there is always something dropping from a camphor tree, including small branches.

We most certainly need weekly street cleaning, and I do not support the change to biweekly.


Posted by Christine Czarnecki, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 4, 2013 at 11:02 am

The proposed biweekly schedule assumes that we all have standard varieties of deciduous trees. We don't. Many of us in Midtown have specimen Camphor trees which are broadleaf evergreens and change out their leaves in the spring. When the camphors are changing their leaves, it looks like autumn in Vermont on our streets. At that time of the year, you can rake the leaves and a few hours later, the lawn looks like you never did a thing. A two week wait would allow a build up of mountains of leaves, not a little dusting.

Following the leaf change, we have the flowering with its gritty pollen and blossom drop, and then the most trying season, the drop of the black camphor berries all over the streets and sidewalks. I can assure you, there is always something dropping from a camphor tree, including small branches.

We most certainly need weekly street cleaning, and I do not support the change to biweekly.


Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 4, 2013 at 11:21 am

On my street the sycamores are in such bad shape that a first leaf drop
starts in May.


Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 4, 2013 at 12:17 pm

Does anyone know what kind of cleaning agent they use? When the streets are cleaned they always seem to have this chemical stench that reminds me of the cleaning/priming agent they use on silicon wafers when they are being primed ... which had a nasty solvent in it? Do we really need that, and need to pay for that.

And speaking of which I just saw a documentary on water fluoridation that said most of the fluoride that is added to water these days is not mineral fluoride but instead toxic waste from Chinese aluminum factories ... all kinds of different fluoride compounds that we actually have to pay for. Who even drinks tap water anymore? Even if you do, you are getting a totally uncontrolled dose of this stuff every time you drink it or bath/shower in it. This is no way to administer a mineral or medication and should be halted. According the information the state that gets the most fluoride, Kentucky, has the worse teeth as well.

There is no evidence that fluoride in water does anything for your teeth and in some cases can overdose and discolor them. Why are we always paying more and more for less and less, and having to be dosed with something against our will without a doctor's prescription? Let's get rid of fluoride. If you want fluoride treatments get a controlled dose from your doctor/dentist and buy fluoride toothpaste.


Posted by Oh My, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 4, 2013 at 12:18 pm

Unfortunately, a $413,000 savings still won't be enough to cover City Manager Keene's salary and benefit package. How many cities provide their city manager with a taxpayer paid for house including recent remodels, county property taxes paid in full by city residents. landscape fees, etc... How many cities other than Palo Alto pay their city managers gym costs, vehicle allowance, trips to the East Coast, etc... Will the savings be used to fund even more senior management positions to help our over stressed city manager. Senior Management costs have now skyrocketed well above $20 million a year helping fund a shadow organization of senior management staff that has absolutely no responsibilities. So we have a service that actually still serves the residents of Palo Alto and that the city manager and city council propose to reduce and place in the hands of a low bid "outsourced contractor" all to save an unneeded senior management position. Good grief!


Posted by Herb Borock, a resident of Professorville
on Dec 4, 2013 at 12:28 pm

Marie,

According to the staff report, the City would save $143,000 by reducing street sweeping to biweekly without outsourcing the work based on estimated salaries for Fiscal Year 2015. The staff report estimates an additional $295,000 savings by outsourcing the work, but staff doesn't know if there would be any savings from outsourcing until they get responses to a Request for Proposal and then monitor the quality of the outsourced work after a contractor is chosen. The City is currently providing street sweeping on El Camino Real for CalTrans because of the poor quality work that CalTrans did in the past, but now the staff report reommends that the City discontinue street sweeping El Camino Real for CalTrans. Cost savings shown at bottom of PDF page 7 of 11 at Web Link


Posted by Herb Borock, a resident of Professorville
on Dec 4, 2013 at 12:31 pm

Marie,

Sorry about the arithmetic error. The City would save $118,000 without outsourcing, not $143,000.


Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 4, 2013 at 2:58 pm

Does anyone know what kind of cleaning agent they use? When the streets are cleaned they always seem to have this chemical stench that reminds me of the cleaning/priming agent they use on silicon wafers when they are being primed ... which had a nasty solvent in it? Do we really need that, and need to pay for that.

And speaking of which I just saw a documentary on water fluoridation that said most of the fluoride that is added to water these days is not mineral fluoride but instead toxic waste from Chinese aluminum factories ... all kinds of different fluoride compounds that we actually have to pay for. Who even drinks tap water anymore? Even if you do, you are getting a totally uncontrolled dose of this stuff every time you drink it or bath/shower in it. This is no way to administer a mineral or medication and should be halted. According the information the state that gets the most fluoride, Kentucky, has the worse teeth as well.

There is no evidence that fluoride in water does anything for your teeth and in some cases can overdose and discolor them. Why are we always paying more and more for less and less, and having to be dosed with something against our will without a doctor's prescription? Let's get rid of fluoride. If you want fluoride treatments get a controlled dose from your doctor/dentist and buy fluoride toothpaste.


Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 4, 2013 at 2:59 pm

Ooops, please delete accidental repeat posting, I must have somehow hit reverse?


Posted by resident 1, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Dec 4, 2013 at 4:13 pm

I have voluminous street trees in front of my house. I do have gardners but still have to get the new leaves in the street for the Thursday pick-up. Yes - they are there every week because we tell people to get their cars off the street. There are street drains at the end of the street on both corners and there are always leaves bunched up in front of those. I have one large bin for garden trash. If the street cleaning was not weekly I would have to get another green container. Is this what this is about? Us getting more containers so we are billed more?
What is even worse I have called the city tree people about problem trees that are partially dead and there is a huge list. If you try and get the street trees done yourself then they get mad.
This is a bad idea - weekly street cleaning is a must if only to keep street leaves out of the drains.


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