Urban Cleaning and Greening

San Francisco is holding its first annual Spring Cleaning Day on Saturday, encouraging all residents to make the city brighter. The Department of Public Works is offering free brooms and trash bags to residents at 11 locations around the city. In addition, residents, but not businesses, are being treated to free trash dumping. Norcal Waste System is offering all San Francisco residents the opportunity to drop off one free car or truck load at the Norcal Waste Dump at Tunnel & Beatty Road for free on Spring Cleaning Day only.

The San Francisco Clean City Coalition, a non-profit organization founded in 1991, offers year-round neighborhood beautification, transitional employment, community education, tool loans, and special event services. The Community Clean Team visits a different district of the city each month, coordinating volunteers to sweep streets and sidewalks, tend to neighborhood trees and plants, work on gardening projects, and paint out graffiti.

The cleaner streets will be easier for visitors and residents alike to navigate on the city's newest zero emissions form of transportation – the Segway Human Transporter. Segways are allowed on most San Francisco streets and designated bike pathways. Segways are not allowed on sidewalks in San Francisco.

The San Francisco Electric Tour Company has introduced guided tours for groups of 10 mounted on the electric, self-balancing, two-wheeled transporters.

Traveling at a top speed of eight miles per hour, the tours stay on the flat parts of the hilly city. The package includes a 20-30 minute on board training session for first-timers to ensure a safe and fun experience. Easy to use and operate, the Segway's high-tech gyroscope monitors the rider's balance 100 times a second and automatically respond to body movements.

The Segways glide noiselessly along the San Francisco waterfront from Fisherman's Wharf through Ghirardelli Square, the National Maritime Museum and the historic sailing ships, Fort Mason, Marina Green, the Palace of Fine Arts. Tours include views of Alcatraz, a WWII submarine at Pier 45, the sea lions at Pier 39, the Aquarium of the Bay, the Cruise Ship Terminal and Historic Piers, and the recently restored Ferry Building at the foot of Market Street. Refreshment breaks and photo stops are included.

Not just Segway riders, but all users of the San Francisco streets will find them cleaner this year. In February, eco-conscious San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom launched a new citywide anti-litter campaign that will focus on changing littering behavior through education, enforcement and abatement.

"Our anti-litter campaign effort will help restore San Francisco's vibrant image," Newsom said, "Litter on our streets and sidewalks has increased during the past years. Instead of streets littered with trash, graffiti, and dilapidated buildings, it is time to have a more aggressive approach to dealing with this issue."

Surrounded by community representatives, Police Chief Heather Fong, Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White and Ed Lee, director of the Department of Public Works, the mayor pledged to help residents and businesses revitalize their neighborhood merchant corridors.

While the city is attempting to recycle more of its trash, the tonnage is increasing. In 2003, the Department of Public Works picked up 16,727 tons off the streets. In 2004, the tonnage increased by 35 percent to 23,451 tons.

DPW's central call center – Dial: 28-CLEAN – experienced an increase of litter calls from 38,541 calls and complaints in 2003, to 44,518, a 15 percent increase, in 2004.

In 2005, the city will provide educational materials aimed at people who litter and leave trash, with a message to be more responsible and respectful. The new program will educate San Franciscans that this behavior is wrong and serve as notice that enforcement will follow to change it. The city will train 400 city employees from 43 different classifications, who are authorized to issue litter citations, in addition to their regular duties. The new citation officers who observe acts of littering will issue citations of $80 to $1,000 to individuals, depending on the amount of trash and the severity of the crime.

Newsom acknowledges that the long-term challenge is to bolster the DPW's ability to respond more often and more quickly to the rising number of litter complaints and requests, while the department's financial resources shrink.

As part of its cleanup effort, the city is working towards reducing the number disposable plastic grocery bags in circulation, possibly by charging a fee for each bag a customer takes at checkout. The flimsy plastic bags show up as litter on the streets, contaminate recyclables, and cost the city millions in management costs.

In February, the San Francisco Commission on the Environment recommended and the Board of Supervisors enacted legislation empowering the city to develop a policy that will reduce grocery bag waste. The proposal recommends a fee to recoup the actual costs the city currently pays for bag-related problems. According to figures developed by the Environment Department, the city pays $8.7 million annually to manage bags that were disposed of improperly – and divided by the estimated total number of bags distributed in the city each year, that works out to 17 cents apiece.

Mayor Newsom and Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi introduced the grocery bag waste resolution at the Board of Supervisors. The resolution, adopted Feb. 8, asks the San Francisco Department of the Environment to work with an outside consultant to compile bag-related costs, as well as assess implications to low and fixed-income San Franciscans. Any future policy would be based on these independent findings, and no action will be taken until they are completed. Public comments will be welcome.

New trees are appearing on city streets as San Francisco works toward greening its environment. Last Saturday, the mayor led Arbor Day celebrations by coordinating the planting of several hundred trees along Ingalls Street in the Bayview, at the Alice Griffith Development, and in Crocker Amazon Park. Newsom, several city agencies, volunteers, and the non-profit Friends of the Urban Forest took part in the tree planting, which was follwed by a community celebration at Crocker Amazon Park with food, music, and educational demonstrations.

A National Wildlife Federation study shows that nationwide, city streets could accommodate 60 to 200 million more trees, potentially absorbing 33 million tons of carbon dioxide every year, providing 20 tons of oxygen and saving $4 billion in energy costs. Trees remove carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas, from the atmosphere and emit fresh oxygen. By providing shade and blocking the wind, trees can also help reduce our energy use up to 30 percent for cooling, and from 20 to 50 percent for heating.

Some of the city's more eco-conscious hotels have been greening their activities to attract visitors who care about environmental conservation. Kimpton Hotels, which has 12 establishments in San Francisco, uses recyclable paper and soy ink on all collateral and correspondence in the San Francisco home office. Kimpton hotels all implement water-saving and recycling programs. In 1995, Kimpton began creating EcoFloors, now in four of their hotels, and the company has plans to develop "EcoFloors" at its 39 hotels nationwide.

Kimpton's Hotel Triton in San Francisco has become completely green, and is used as the model for California's Green Lodging Program. The Triton still offers a premium EcoFloor with organic and natural rooms and celebrity suites, including air and water filtration, organic linens and bedding, and energy-saving lighting.

Kimpton has partnered with the national conservation organization, the Trust for Public Land, to create new parks in America's cities. The two-month campaign, Parks for People - More than a Dream, will begin June 1 at Kimpton hotels.

"For many communities new parks are merely a dream," said Steve Pinetti, Kimpton senior vice president for sales and marketing. "Now as summer travelers rest at Kimpton Hotels, they can help the Trust for Public Land make the dream of parks for people come true." Visitors can choose specialty reservations and donate a percentage of their bill to the parks initiative, and series of national events will be staged to raise visibility and donations.

All these efforts for a cleaner and greener San Francisco will make the city more attractive to visitors as well as residents, and the city is already bracing for a tidal wave of tourists this spring and summer. With the U.S. dollar weak as compared to foreign currencies, vacation time in San Francisco looks like a good value to overseas visitors.

The most recent data from the city's Convention & Visitors Bureau shows that 14.4 million domestic and international visitors, including Bay Area visitors, spent $6.03 billion in 2003. Of that total, there were 2.15 million foreign visitors who spent more than $536 million. The 2004 visitor data is not yet available, but the Bureau expects the overseas visitor count to be higher than it was last year.

On the challenging side, there are financial problems looming for San Francisco next year if the 2005-06 federal and state budgets are passed as proposed by President George W. Bush and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Mayor's Office Budget Director Ben Rosenfield told the Board of Supervisors' Budget Committee earlier this month that the city's current $113 million budget deficit could grow to just under $200 million if federal and state budgets cut funding to the city for community policing, violence-prevention and public health.

If the cuts are adopted, San Francisco would have to support these programs by drawing from its general fund, which covers many services that affect the environment such as police and fire protection, street cleaning, public health, and recreation programs.

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