Richmond aims to enhance street sweeping effectiveness

Richmond aims to enhance street sweeping effectiveness
Photo courtesy of the City of Richmond.

Richmond aims to greatly enhance the effectiveness of its street sweeping program by adding street sweeping signs in neighborhoods that don’t have them, repairing or replacing existing deteriorated signage, adding sufficient staff and equipment to perform street sweeping, and amplifying the city’s ability to issue citations.

The Richmond City Council voted Tuesday to direct the City Manager to incorporate funding for these measures in the 2022-23 budget.

Mayor Tom Butt has long been advocating for enhanced street sweeping and street sweeping enforcement measures in the city, stating research funded via the Community Air Protection Program reveals that road dust is “Richmond’s most dangerous pollutant.”

“High levels of organic and inorganic contaminants in street dust represent a source of dual potential risk to stormwater and air quality,” the mayor stated in a recent report.

Parked cars, the mayor added, “pose a significant risk” to street sweeping.

Richmond’s street sweeping program has been a controversial topic for over two decades, particularly on the subject of whether moving parked cars should be voluntary and mandatory. That has resulted in a system where some neighborhoods have street sweeping signs and others do not. The Annex and Annex Panhandle neighborhoods are among the neighborhoods without signs.

In May 2020, the city’s Public Works Department reported receiving numerous complaints over the years about street sweepers not being able to sweep the gutters due to lack of cooperation from residents in moving vehicles. At that time, city staff requested funding approval from the City Council to install 575 street sweeping signs in the Annex and Panhandle Annex and to start issuing citations for noncompliance.

The proposed enforcement measures again received pushback from residents of those neighborhoods, including Councilmembers Gayle Mclaughlin and Eduardo Martinez, who reside in the neighborhoods and are members of the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA), a group that purports to be concerned about environmental issues.

The City Council voted unanimously in May 2020 to give the Richmond Annex and Panhandle neighborhoods 90 days to voluntarily comply with the street sweeping program. 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.

During the pandemic, the city suspended street sweeping citations, but later reversed course because blocked access to sweepers prompted numerous complaints of trash and debris accumulating on the street.

In January last year, however, City Council voted again to suspend ticketing and to consider modifying the program so that it is less punitive. Councilmember Mclaughlin introduced both suspensions of the street sweeping program during the pandemic.

At Tuesday’s council meeting, Councilmember Mclaughlin agreed to Mayor Butt’s latest proposals to enhance the city’s street sweeping program, including adding signs and enforcement to the neighborhoods that she resides in and represents, saying the issue has become “so political.” However, she expressed skepticism that the plan could be done quickly or affordably, saying the Public Works department has bigger funding priorities.

The City Council ultimately voted in favor of Mayor Butt’s proposal but with amendments pitched by Councilmember Mclaughlin. The amendments include implementing a system for sending text notifications to residents to remind them when to move their car for street sweeping, and also banning the towing of vehicles that block street sweepers. Mclaughlin notes that city law enables staff to tow vehicles that aren’t moved after 72 hours on city streets.

Mayor Butt and Councilmember Nat Bates both voted against Mclaughlin’s amendments after Mclaughlin rejected their proposal to add a note on street sweeping signs that cars could be towed for noncompliance.