New policy sweeps pollutants into local waterways, mayor says

New policy sweeps pollutants into local waterways, mayor says
File photo

Two Richmond councilmembers’ successful efforts to suspend street sweeping enforcement citywide and to prevent enforcement altogether in the neighborhoods where they live will increase blight on city streets and pollute local waterways, warned Mayor Tom Butt.

Last month, Councilmembers Gayle McLaughlin and Eduardo Martinez, both members of the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) which claims environmentalism as its focus, won council approval to suspend ticketing for street sweeping violations amid the COVID-19 pandemic on the premise of reducing economic hardships on residents who may get ticketed.

They unveiled the proposal on the same day City Council had planned to vote on whether to add 575 street sweeping signs in the Richmond Annex and Panhandle Annex neighborhoods, the communities where McLaughlin and Martinez live. Those neighborhoods have long been exempted from the citywide street sweeping program.

City staff says a three-month program focused on voluntary compliance in those neighborhoods didn’t work, and that cars blocking street sweepers were taking a toll on city streets and efforts to keep pollutants out of city waterways. While the city suspended street sweeping citations earlier in the pandemic, complaints of trash and debris accumulating on the street prompted the resumption of ticketing on Oct. 1.

Now that street sweeping is once again suspended, Mayor Butt is sounding an alarm on the impacts.

“Street sweeping is a best practice under the Clean Water Act for reducing pollutants that otherwise would wash into San Francisco Bay,” the mayor recently stated in in e-forum newsletter. “These pollutants include not only just plain old trash but also much that you can’t even see, including microplastics, copper, zinc, mercury, PCBs and, most recently, an additive to the rubber in tires that is killing Coho salmon and may also be harming our local salmon and other marine life.”

The mayor said it is “particularly shocking” that RPA members would support a policy that promotes pollution.

“They fought Point Molate to protect the eelgrass and the butterflies; they fought Campus Bay and argued all the toxics should be trucked away; they want to decommission Chevron,” Butt said. “But when it comes to inconveniencing their neighbors and themselves to simply move their cars once a month to protect the Bay, that’s going too far and too close to home. They had to draw the line somewhere.”

The mayor additionally referenced a discussion on NextDoor about resistance to street sweeping in the Annex, in which he said a majority of comments supported enforcement of the program. The mayor posted comments from the online discussion here.