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San Francisco voters will get the chance in November to decide if a new sanitation department will be established, or not.

The Board of Supervisors Tuesday voted 7-4 for a ballot measure that if passed would create a Department of Sanitation and Streets and a five-member commission to support the department. Supervisors Catherine Stefani, Rafael Mandelman, Sandra Lee Fewer and Norman Yee voted in dissent.

Additionally, the bill would allow for creation of a commission to oversee the existing Department of Public of Works. Since an FBI investigation was launched into alleged illegal practices by former DPW Director Mohammed Nuru, the department and its contracting processes have come under intense scrutiny. 

Supervisor Matt Haney, the measure’s primary sponsor, said DPW has failed to keep streets clean, especially in District 6, where he represents neighborhoods like the Tenderloin and South of Market.

Lamenting that residents and visitors are often faced with feces and trash on sidewalks, and the smell of urine soaked streets, Haney said:

“The result of this has been that our city has become the butt of jokes on nightly news. The failure to ensure clean streets and clean government has been one of our city’s greatest embarrassments.”

Jerold Chinn/SFBay A cleaning crew member with the Tenderloin Community Benefit District demonstrates a new pressure washing tool during a press conference in San Francisco, Calif., on Tuesday, December 3, 2019.

Critics of the measure have said now is not the time to invest in an entirely new department given The City’s current financial struggles due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Stefani said she agrees DPW should have an oversight commission, but disagreed with the new department creation. 

She said:

“The fact remains we are facing a $2 billion shortfall and we do not know when this recession will end.”

Stefani proposed an amendment at the board’s Rules Committee that would gutted most of Haney’s measure, with the exception of the DPW oversight commission, but it was voted down in committee.

The Controller’s Office estimates the new department will cost between  $2.5 million and $6 million annually.

Haney did delay the proposed transition date until July 1, 2022 to lessen the impacts on The City’s budget over the next couple years.

Along the way to the final board vote, Haney has made additional changes to his measure in an effort to reduce costs. One amendment allows staff from the City Administrator’s Office or existing DPW to assist in administrative functions at the new department for at least the first two years.

San Francisco trash
<a>Fred Sharples</a>/Flickr Cleaning up tons of unsightly trash and litter costs The City millions of dollars each year.

The new Department of Sanitation and Streets would require a new department head, public information officer, chief administrative officer, contract managers and IT staff.

Fewer, who chairs the board’s Budget and Finance Committee, said she could not support the measure while The City is facing a fiscal crisis. She said she does not know what the financial reality will look like in 2022 and wants to ensure The City is in good shape before she leaves office.

After Supervisor Ahsha Safai committed support last week, Haney had shored up the six votes needed to move the measure to the ballot in the full board vote.

In support of the measure, Supervisor Aaron Peskin said the DPW has too many functions under its umbrella and he was convinced Haney effectively reduced costs associated with establishing and operating the new department.

Peskin said:

“Ultimately, the voters will decide.”

Jerold Chinn
Jerold Chinn covers transportation and City Hall in San Francisco for SF Bay. Email: jerold@sfbay.ca. Twitter: @Jerold_Chinn. Instagram: jeroldwashere.

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