by Caleb Talley
Trigger warning: This editorial is pretty crappy.
When polling citizens on what they expect from their local government, you’re bound to have a number of reoccurring concerns, regardless of where in the country you are. Safety is almost always at the top of that list, as is infrastructure and economic development.
You’ll likely find cleanliness on that list, too. Having covered local governments as a newspaper reporter, I know full well the concerns of tax paying citizens in regard to the appearance of the community. Who can blame them. If you’re paying taxes, you expect your local government to keep trash out of the streets, keep lots mowed and enforce nuisance abatement laws.
That’s something my hometown of Forrest City has struggled with in recent years, having faced constant criticism from members of the community on the city’s appearance in some of the most high-traffic wards. In the last city council meeting I covered, councilmembers debated implementing a nuisance abatement ordinance adapted from a North Little Rock law – which, apparently, is quite thorough.
And as communities across the state and nation strive to appear more progressive – initiating redistributive programs and developing patterns of participation – they sometimes forget to take care of the basics. Don’t believe me? Take a look at San Francisco.
San Francisco is a major hub of technology and innovation. It’s one of the country’s most progressive cities, and it’s the second-most expensive American city to live in. It’s also, literally, covered in human waste and drug needles.
As of early July, the San Francisco Public Works Department had received more than 16,000 complaints of ‘human feces’ on city sidewalks. And that doesn’t even count the number of complaints made using some of the other, more common words for you-know-what.
As one could imagine, that poses a major health risk to the citizens and tourist who walk these streets. Dried fecal matter lining the streets releases airborne viruses that can be fatal, especially to children. Disposed needles tested positive for HIV, Hepatitis C, Hepatitis B and a variety of other viral diseases. Researchers with the University of California compared the level of contamination to communities in developing, third-world countries.
In an effort to combat this rapidly growing trend – reports of public pooping have sky rocketed since 2009 – San Francisco city officials have deployed a “poop patrol.” That’s right. Brave men and women, equipped with hazmat suits and pressure washers, walking the streets of San Francisco picking up diseased needles and blasting doody from the curb.
That’s not a bad idea. If there’s feces on the curb, somebody needs to clean it up. But you would prefer your citizens not drop trou and crap in public. Apparently, that’s not the priority. When San Francisco Mayor, London Breed, was pressed about harsher penalties for those who defecate on city streets, she brushed it off. “I didn’t express anything about a penalty,” she said. Breed, instead, said she would encourage nonprofits to talk to “their clients” about public pooping and ditching viral needles.
No, rather than to discourage citizens from using the sidewalk as their bathroom, the city of San Francisco has decided to throw heaps of money at cleaning up after them.
Starting next month, the Public Works Department will begin cleaning human feces from the streets of San Francisco. And they’ve allocated millions of tax dollars to do it. Nearly $2.5 million will be put towards steaming poo from the streets. More than $3 million will go towards porta-potties. Nearly $1 million will go towards a 10-person needle cleanup team.
And the poop patrol? They will make anywhere from $71,000 to $184,000 a year, which also includes mandated benefits. Sorry, boss. I’m quitting and moving to San Francisco!
If anything, the city of San Francisco should serve as a warning to communities in a rush to prove their progressive merits. Don’t let crappy political policies lead to crappy results. San Franciscans want to clean up their city, they might start with city hall.
I’m certain there are communities, like my home town, that do need tougher policies to make city streets more presentable. But it could always be worse. At least we’re not San Francisco.
In Cash & Candor, Arkansas Money & Politics / AY Magazine Editor Caleb Talley aims to shoot it straight when it comes to business and politics in and around the Natural State. Talley comes to AMP by way of the Arkansas Delta, where he called balls and strikes at the Forrest City Times-Herald. He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more Cash & Candor here.