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San Francisco commits more resources to tackle illegal dumping

San Francisco commits resources to curb illegal trash dumping
San Francisco commits resources to curb illegal trash dumping 03:41

It's hard to keep track of just how much garbage gets illegally dumped in San Francisco, but there is a special team dedicated to figuring out exactly who is responsible.  

Shannon Sweeney is madly motivated and on a mission to keep San Francisco's streets as clean as they can be. 

"It's bigger than there's some garbage on the street. Areas need to be properly maintained so everyone has equal access to it," said Sweeney. 

The 23-year-old is an illegal dumping investigator and part of the Department of Public Works Outreach and Enforcement team. The city of San Francisco is putting more resources into keeping sidewalks clear of trash after COVID sidelined the illegal dumping investigators who enforce the rules.  

Armed with plastic gloves if she needs to sleuth for evidence of culprits who illegally dump trash, Sweeney also inputs details of new offenders into her tablet, issues citations if previous warnings have been ignored, and checks on complaints. 

"I'm more of an inviting person. I have a harder time laying down the law. Personally, I think education works better, but enforcement is a necessary part of what we do," Sweeney told KPIX.

She notes that dumpsters with no lids and overflowing with trash are a violation and grounds for hefty fines, and fines can quickly escalate.

 However, it begins with a warning for first-time offenders. 

"We're doing some enforcement on Fillmore Street," said Sweeney. 

Some citations for illegal dumping of trash can reach up to $1,000 dollars.

Parts of the Bayview are hot spots for illegal dumping, but it's a citywide problem. City crews dole out citations, but the Department of Public Works is also emphasizing a different approach to addressing an age-old city problem.   

Ramses Alvarez oversees the trash investigation team.

"San Francisco Public Works has a lot of folks cleaning up the public right of way, but in the end, it really takes all of us. People have to dispose of their trash in the right way," said Alvarez. 

Alvarez has staffed up the team to six full-time investigators after COVID halted operations and rerouted the unit to other duties. Sweeney has found taking a softer approach initially, is working in her designated neighborhoods. 

"For me education has worked better for long term solutions in getting a business or residents to be in compliance in the long run," said Sweeney. 

DPW said it receives some 30 service requests per day across the city.

Investigators like Sweeney can't get to all of them.  

"I feel like we're establishing more responsibility for the community. This is our city.  Let's take care of it," said Sweeney. 

Sweeney and her team hope keeping residents and businesses accountable one at a time is making a dent.   

The number of code violations has increased since COVID after numbers plummeted in 2020.  But a lack of a fully staffed unit shows. In 2018, there were more than 15,000 violations.

Last year, that number was just above 7,000. 

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