In much of the city, calls for clean streets have become a euphemism for eradicating visible homelessness, but in Bayview-Hunters Point, it’s a literal appeal to stop truckloads of bulk waste from filling up the neighborhood.
The district has dealt with the issue for years but Supervisor Shamann Walton, who called for a hearing earlier this month, is seeking a new game plan. Illegal dumping costs the city up to $10 million a year but it also affects morale in Bayview-Hunters Point. Not a day goes by when Walton doesn’t receive a call, text, or email about it from residents who see it daily and who also worry about its impact on property values.
“This is something that really brings down the spirit of the neighborhood,” Walton says. “People feel that we’re a dumping ground in a lot of ways, and they want it to stop.”
According to Department of Public Works spokesperson Rachel Gordon, contractors or their hired hands are some of the area’s biggest offenders, as they dump construction debris that can be full of hazardous materials like asbestos and broken glass. Abandoned waste can be found citywide, but it disproportionately affects District 10, which accounted for 48 percent of related requests received by Public Works and Recology from October 2017 to September 2018.
Responding to illegal dumping continues to cost taxpayers money. Over three weeks in December, extra city crews picked up 542,660 pounds of abandoned waste in the neighborhood, and have since been made cleaning runs two days a week. Gordon says Thomas Avenue and Hawes Street near the shoreline, Griffith Street and Revere Avenue a few blocks away, Evans Avenue and Selby Street under Interstate 280, and a couple dead ends are some of the hotspots for dumping.
Illegally unloading trucks of debris doesn’t go unpunished. Fines run as high as $1,000, and in 2011 the City Attorney’s office even brought forward a lawsuit against roofing-company employees for leaving business material on public property. Walton is looking to increase the fines through state law.
But the fines are only for people who get caught, and despite the extra effort from city workers, the flow of waste keeps coming. Walton and Public Works are now seeking ways to have business owners and homeowners near hotspots install security cameras to catch dumpers in the act.
“It doesn’t do good if we can’t catch some people who are committing these offenses,” Walton says of Public Works’ extra crews who operate overnight. “You wake up tomorrow and it’s there again.”
Alongside the construction debris and tossed tires are household trash, unwanted furniture, appliances, and mattresses from everyday people. Dr. Cedric Jackson has lived in the neighborhood for more than 30 years and says it’s “nastier” than ever.
He connects rising homelessness and poverty as a major part of the problem, and the key to the solution: Employ unhoused or struggling folks for at least $17 an hour to clean up the waste in Bayview-Hunters Point. (Nonprofit Downtown Streets Team has a similar concept along Market Street.)
“I don’t think there’s an adequate dumping system, and because of inadequate finances, people don’t want to pay to have it dumped,” Jackson says. “I don’t think it’s rocket science that when you put people out on the streets there’s going to be an increase in waste just as a product of their living.”
Walton is seeking ideas like these from community stakeholders and an update to Public Works and Recology efforts. An ordinance was passed eight years ago to declare it a public nuisance, but illegal dumping endures, with Bayview-Hunters Point continuing to shoulder the burden. His office aims to hold the hearing in March.
“We just can’t tolerate this,” Walton says. “This isn’t something that happens all over San Francisco.”