Richmond council votes to suspend street sweeping citations, consider voluntary program

575 street sweeping signs proposed for Richmond neighborhoods
Photo courtesy of the City of Richmond

Richmond City Council on Tuesday voted to suspend ticketing for street sweeping violations during the COVID-19 shelter-in-place period, and to consider modifying the program so that it is less punitive in its efforts to gain compliance.

The city suspended street sweeping citations earlier in the pandemic. But officials reversed course and resumed ticketing on Oct. 1, stating that blocking access to street sweepers had prompted  “numerous complaints of trash and debris accumulating on the street.”

On Tuesday, Richmond’s council voted 6-1 to suspend citations again, “at least until the shelter-in-place is lifted given the economic hardship felt throughout our city,” per the language adopted by city council.

In addition, council asked staff to research ways to gain voluntary compliance from residents, including the possible use of email, phone or text reminders to residents on street sweeping days, or allowing neighborhoods to opt into a voluntary compliance process that allows them to remove street sweeping signs. Tuesday’s decision also mandates that no new signs be installed in any neighborhood while city staff studies alternatives, and requests a council review of those alternatives in three months.

The council’s decision came amid a long-running debate over whether the city should install 575 street sweeping signs in the Richmond Annex and Panhandle Annex neighborhoods, which have been exempted from the citywide street sweeping program. The proposed signs have long faced resistance within the neighborhoods.

City staff said the problem of cars not moving for street sweepers has increased the amount of debris collecting in the city’s gutters. The debris not only contributes to blight, but also enters the stormwater system and pollutes the bay, officials say. The street sweeping program is one tool in the city’s efforts to meet National Pollutant Discharge System (NPDS) permit requirements.

When the signs were proposed for installation at council in May, representatives for the Richmond Annex and Panhandle Annex neighborhoods requested, and received council approval for, a three-month pilot program focused on voluntary compliance. At the end of the three-month pilot, city staff reported that visual inspections showed the voluntary program did not adequately work to gain compliance.

Councilmember Gayle Mclaughlin, who represents District 5, which includes the Richmond Annex and Panhandle Annex neighborhoods, introduced both suspension of the citywide streetsweeping program amid the shelter-in-place period, and also the ban on installing any more signs until alternative methods of gaining compliance is researched. Councilmember Eduardo Martinez was the proposal’s co-sponsor.

Richmond Mayor Tom Butt was the lone “no” vote on the issue Tuesday, arguing that street sweeping is an important method used to protect the environment. Efforts to gain voluntary compliance in the Richmond Annex and Panhandle Annex neighborhoods haven’t worked, and enforcement of street sweeping cannot occur unless signs warning of enforcement are posted, the mayor added. Butt called street sweeping enforcement “a powerful motivator for people to move those vehicles,” and added that Richmond Annex and Panhandle Annex should not be exempted from it.