San Diego collects $6.6 million a year issuing tickets to violators of street sweeping signs, but only about a third of the city’s mechanical street sweepers are used to actually clean streets on an average day.
If you don’t move your car out of the way on a street sweeping day, you’re facing a $52.50 parking ticket.
But according to a recent city document, about one-third of the city’s 18 mechanical sweepers are available on any given day to sweep streets. The rest are broken or temporarily out-of-service.
Now Councilman Todd Gloria is saying if your street didn’t get swept, but you got a ticket for not moving your car, call the city and protest the fine.
“We can go back and check the GPS records to see whether or not the vehicle came down the street, and if it didn’t, you won’t be held responsible for the ticket,” Gloria said.
The city’s street sweeping program is aimed at preventing pollution from getting into San Diego waterways. Many residents have complained that it’s actually just a revenue program for the city.
“Street sweeping? We call it the PB tax,” said Carole Kerch, a Pacific Beach resident.
“They need to be consistent because if we have four weeks where we haven’t had any street sweeping, then we’re not going to expect them to come around and we’re not going to be as diligent about moving our cars,” Kerch said.
At a recent environment committee meeting, Councilman David Alvarez and Gloria tried to understand what issues are keeping the streets from being swept.
“We’re trying to get to the bottom of this to make sure, first of all, that if we claim that we’re doing something at the city that we actually go out and do it,” Alvarez said. “You never want to be in the position where you ask people to move their vehicles or ticket them when they’re parked there, if we don’t actually go and sweep the street.”
Alvarez and Gloria both said they’ve been hearing from residents who are angry about the program.
“If the sign says they’re going to sweep the street on Tuesday morning, ‘Move your car,’ then you better (sweep the street) and you absolutely need to do it if you give them a ticket,” Gloria said.
The city issues on average 113,000 citations a year for violating street sweeping parking signs. It collects about $6.6 million from those tickets, which is 23.5 percent of the total annual revenue from the parking program, according to Jonathan Carey in the City Treasurer’s office.
Street sweeping isn’t just aimed at making neighborhoods look nicer. Because San Diego doesn’t treat its storm water before it runs into waterways and bays, the city has environmental obligations to the Environmental Protection Agency to help offset that impact.
In a city memo from the Storm Water division that oversees the street sweeping program, Deputy Director Drew Kleis said on days when the mechanical sweepers are down for maintenance, workers manually remove debris from roadways and center islands.
Although some routes have been missed, Kleis wrote, the minimum requirements for environmental concerns are being met, even if residents' expectations aren’t satisfied.
“This is a core service of government, which is why having half the fleet not working is so incredibly frustrating, if not embarrassing,” Gloria said.
A review of available data for the last three months indicated that an average of six to eight mechanical sweepers were available each day out of the division’s 18 machines, Kleis said.
Street sweepers are also high-maintenance vehicles, according to Kleis.
Maintenance on the vehicles is done in an entirely different department: the fleet services department. That department has a $50.8 million budget for fiscal year 2015. It has also incurred an additional $1 million in overtime costs as fleet workers struggle to maintain vehicles.
“Every vehicle is different,” Alvarez said. “They’re not just cars. There’s machinery involved like vacuums and sweepers and all different types of vehicles. So, when you let go of personnel that know how to do the job, we’re starting to see some of the repercussions of that.”
Gloria and Alvarez point to managed competition as a possible reason the process is not working as it should. Managed competition was approved by voters to decrease costs through competitive bidding.
They say key staff was laid off to bring the bid in low and since then, there have been issues with keeping street sweepers and fire engines working, along with problems with excessive overtime.
However, since that competitive bidding process in 2012, the city’s fleet has aged, with more vehicles and older vehicles to maintain.
“Look, I voted for managed competition,” Gloria said. “But you can say when something is not working.”
A spokesman for the mayor responded that the overall budget for fleet services is lower today because of managed competition, but there have also been off-setting increases in the budget over the past three years to address changes to the city’s fleet and workload.
City staff said January 2015 is the first month that managed competition was fully implemented in the department, so the impact its budget isn’t yet fully realized.
“However, the Mayor will continue to pursue recommendations from city staff and outside consultants regarding the use of improved technology, workforce distribution and management of the fleet to ensure processes are streamlined and best practices are followed,” according to an email response from Almis Udrys, Director of Performance & Analytics for the City of San Diego.