The Silicon Valley Voice

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Clean up campaign proves divisive, city looks to improve effort

Everybody has extra junk lying around their home. So, since the early 1960s Santa Clara has conducted an annual clean-up campaign to help residents purge their unwanted belongings in one fell swoop.

Dave Staub, public works director for the city, has worked for the city since 1995. He said the clean-up campaign divides the city into four sections and services them on a weekly basis from May 2 to 27.

“It was started to give residents an opportunity to …  beautify the city, so we didn’t have a bunch of junk sitting in yards,” he said. “Not everybody has access to a truck. This is a way to get rid of it conveniently in front of your home.”

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Since 1996, Staub said the budget to operate the clean up campaign has grown from $1.1 million to $2 million.

Last year, the city conducted a survey on the clean-up campaign to determine its popularity. About 70 percent of the more than 2,000 respondents lauded the way the city conducts the effort.

However, Staub said a vocal minority have criticized the campaign.

“It makes the city look like a mess and traffic — those are the complaints,” he said.

Opponents of the current model would like to see an on-demand service that would come retrieve items by appointment, Staub said. That model would actually cost slightly less, and Staub said he “wouldn’t say that” the way things are done now is better, but it is what the residents seem to want.

The city even added another day to its yearly community wide garage sale as a way to help citizens get rid of extra junk prior to the clean-up campaign in hopes of limiting its scope and thereby the fallout of its side effects.

In order for the clean-up campaign to change, the city manager would have to bring a proposed change before the city council.

“Obviously the original intent was good,” said City Manager Rajeev Batra. “All the benefits are still valid; however, since that time … the challenge we see as staff is you will go and see mattresses on the side of the road … more and more people are putting hazardous materials on the curb.”

Batra said his department is still “trying to find a way to manage” the program property to alleviate the concerns raised by Santa Clarans without changing the program for those who like it. His department is trying to “be proactive” in its approach to make the program safer to ensure hazardous materials such as paint don’t leach into the stormwater system.

He said increased enforcement would help, but such enforcement comes with its own set of challenges.

“You don’t know who put what out there, so who do you cite?” he said.

Although Batra said the “council is not quite on board” with eliminating the program, he said he plans to introduce some sort of change in the way the program is handled to help alleviate the issues that are arising from it.

Although Batra said the program will continue on into next year, he added that the city will bring the program “to a closure at the appropriate time.”

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