San Francisco is so dirty

nanonline's picture

I think our fair city is filthy dirty. Look around. Trash on our sidewalks that neither residents nor businesses feel responsible for, trash by our bus stops left by passengers or homeless that take shelter in them, overflowing city trash cans on corners (with no recycling efforts at most), trash all over when the recycling bandits go through your recycling and trash bins, trash all over our highways and on-ramps -- WHAT GIVES?? Forget investing in the green effort for now -- I'd like to see someone at the city level impose fines to keep the city Cleaner, and the Greener will follow. Fines for those who allow trash and filth to proliferate, fines for Caltrans for not cleaning up all the trash on the side of the road choking any attempt at greenery or nature, fines for all residents and business owners who allow graffiti to remain on their walls and trash in front of their businesses and home - fine them all. You say the city is too broke to clean it up themselves? Get people involved - make the do it, or fine them until they do, or bill them if the city has to do it. Crime will go down when it looks like someone is home, it watching, and cares. In the end, we'll live cleaner, greener, attract more tourist dollars, have money to improve our transportation and have money to keep crime down for us and for all. The Broken Window theory -- we are all responsible for allowing our city leaders to ignore it.

Lucy in the sky's picture

I agree

Pick up the trash, don't litter!  I think this is one thing where having pro-active community members is essential.  I went to a rally/protest at SF City Hall a while back and after lunching on the lawn my kids and I filled up a bag with other peoples trash.  My kids did not think it was fair to pick up after others but I told them the only way that things will happen is if we work together and if someone steps up (or stoops down).  In any case teach them young, keep a bag handy, and lets all do our part for a cleaner city.

Stan's picture

From Fair City to Fine City

I agree with the idea that we should impose fines on those caught littering. 

In fact, heavy fines do work. Since 1968, the small country of Singapore has been imposing heavy fines for littering, reaching hundreds of dollars. The effect? Singapore's streets are almost squeaky clean. While it does seem a little harsh, it is very effective and does teach many of the locals lessons. (

Either we impose fines on litterers in San Francisco, or we spend more of our money on education and advocacy against littering. I find the former much more effective.

sftim's picture

What about all the noise pollution & feces on the sidewalks?

Okay, why is it every single morning here in the city (I'm at Ellis & Jones) I'm awakened at 5am first by the noisy street cleaner; which this morning traveled up & down my street no less than five times while making this weird whooping crane sound?  Next it's the unbearable garbage truck that literally sits under my window five stories below making that awful and extremely loud grrrrr grrrr noise that I just can't take any more.  Last night was warm so I had all my windows open this morning and I almost fell out of bed when the garbage truck started this morning, then I tried going back to sleep but the street cleaner with it's loud whistling noise kept coming up & down the street cleaning the same area that the same truck had already made a pass on already.  This is ridiculous, I need to work & have to get sleep but I can't with these noise polluting vehicles.  Can't we find vehicles that can handle these task without all the noise so early in the morning?  Or can't we schedule trash pickup at varying times for business districts versus more residential areas of the city?

Now don't get me started on all the feces that's on the sidewalks of San Francisco, but it's like walking through a minefield every single day.  I have no idea whether the feces is human or animal, but I do know that I see more people living on our sidewalks than I see pets with owners not picking up their dogs' excrement.  All of those people on the streets have go to bathroom somewhere and it seems most use the sidewalks & streets as an open sewer, going anywhere they please.  Just be sure to always look down wherever you go or you'll step in a pile of disgusting crap here in the great city of SF.

friscodog's picture

sandblasting costs


Gum alone accounts for 41% of all small litter on San Francisco sidewalks.


We can use sandblasting machines, which are effective - but there are significant rental/maintenance fees involved.  



Do you think The City or merchants should foot the bill?  Given the city's financial problems, maybe merchants to band together to share the cost, possibly forming business associations to directly deal with the problem?


gcotter's picture

I hate chewing gum on the sidewalk

This is such a dirty, filthy habit!  There is a bus stop in front of my house and new wads of gum appear on my sidewalk daily.  The offenders don't even have the courtesy to spit it into the street where it could at least end up on tires instead of shoes.  Yuck!

I'd love to see the city slap a "sin tax" onto gum with the proceeds going toward sidewalk maintenance.  And I'd price it at 50 cents to a dollar a stick.  Buy a 10-stick package of gum and pay a $5 to $10 tax on it.  And why not?  It isn't a food, it isn't an addiction, it doesn't even hydrate you as a soda would.  Why not tax the heck out of it?.

Of course I'd also tax all junk food from those packages of mini-donuts (which I love) to sugar sweetened soda pop to cookies, candy chips, etc.  Since these aren't a necessity and are bad for you they are great choices for "sin" taxes.

But start with gum and use the taxes received to clean and maintain the sidewalks!

Lucy in the sky's picture


Ugh... gum on sidewalks and your shoes is just disgusting.  I remember going to Mexico city and being told by our guide that the local law prohibits gum chewing in the center of the city.  Gum removal became way to expensive to remove and given Mexico's budgetary woes they opted to just altogether outlaw gum. 

Couldn't agree with you more Gcotter: tax the gum!

Sue's picture

filthy sidewalks

 I agree - tax the gum!  If you ever stand waiting for the bus and look down at the sidewalk, the black blobs on the sidewalk are used gum.  I don't understand why people think it's OK to spit it out anywhere they choose.  If it comes in a wrapper, save the wrapper and put the wrapped used gum in the trash.  What's so hard about that?  The same goes for used to-go coffee containers - toss them in the trash, not the street.  It's like backpacking - pack it in, pack it out.  Your responsibility doesn't end with purchase and consumption.

And another thing, while I'm ranting - how about those mattresses and chairs and assorted junk people feel OK about leaving on the sidewalks?  At one point there was a large pile of stuff and garbage next to a street trash container at 36th and Anza.  The solution was to remove the street trash container, which sort of works, although now I see trash dumped at the same location, but in the street.  Although it's the law that people have to have (pay for) garbage service in San Francisco, apparently some people don't have the service.

gcotter's picture

trash and junk

I agree with Sue.  When people get new furniture or move they seem to think it's OK to just dump stuff on the sidewalk.  I've learned to call 311 - the city's hotline for just about everything.  They will ask questions like "Do you know who dumped it?" ("No") but they open a service request and then they work with DPW to get the trash picked up.  I've had good luck with this process - usually same or next day pickup - sometimes longer but not usually.  If it is an ongoing problem, and you call 311 each time, this will go into their database as a problem area.

By the way - they also have a web site  and you can click on "Request a Service" and then click "Streets and Sidewalks" to open a service request online.  

Also worth the time reviewing:  Click on the "About 311" button followed by the "Reports button.  Under "Performance" there is a report for the "Fiscal Year 2009/2010...."  It is five pages of statistics that are very interesting.

violentservant's picture

If we were to fine people for

If we were to fine people for littering, the streets would become cleaner. Thus there wouldn't have to be as many street cleaners, thus saving us money. We could also use the money from the fining and use it for public parks or city beautification. Maybe plant more trees, considering we have half the tree coverage that even New York! There are so many possibilities that are available that we could use to make this city a more livable, attractive place!

bobbyh's picture

Tax everything!?

"I'd love to see the city slap a "sin tax" onto gum with the proceeds going toward sidewalk maintenance.  And I'd price it at 50 cents to a dollar a stick.  Buy a 10-stick package of gum and pay a $5 to $10 tax on it.  And why not?  It isn't a food, it isn't an addiction, it doesn't even hydrate you as a soda would.  Why not tax the heck out of it?. Of course I'd also tax all junk food from those packages of mini-donuts (which I love) to sugar sweetened soda pop to cookies, candy chips, etc.  Since these aren't a necessity and are bad for you they are great choices for "sin" taxes."

Gcotter--I see the issue with gum on the sidewalks, and agree we should be finding a way to curb the problem, but I respectfully disagree that the solution is to "tax the heck" out of it, and cookies, and sodas, and candy, and chips etc.  The government's role is not to say which kind of crisps someone should be eating, or whether they should eat a cookie or a biscuit, and it is such a slippery slope to just start slapping taxes on things we don't like.  What about ice-cream, what about steaks, french fries?  Where does the list end?  Just taxing it is an easy solution but not only am I against it from an ideological perspective (government's role), its just bad public policy. 

If the problem is gum on the streets, why don't we target that problem as opposed to me, for example, who enjoys chewing gum but also throws my used gum in a trash can. How about heavy fines for those that are seen throwing their gum on the street--and I mean significant fines, to act as a deterrent because obviously enforcement will be a major issue.   How about some production regulation on gum companies to make products that are more easily cleaned up if stuck to the street?  There are a host of different solutions to explore, but just taxing the heck out of everything isn't one. 

rtumblesf's picture

Dirty Everything


It seems like one of the best ways to clean up the city is not to rely on the city at all - but to form a neighborhood improvement district. The one in the Castro has made a big difference. The streets are not quite sparkling - but the District comes through a couple times a day and cleans. And they seem to steam clean regularly also. It is much cleaner than before.

Some say it is "privatizing" services. But I it has worked well where it has been tried and it is a way for merchants to volunteer to pay a little more but to get services that directly benefit them - and everybody else in the neighborhood. 

DonRoss's picture

Gum and Negative Externalities

Gum, like cigarette buds pollute our streets everyday. Like cigarettes, gum costs San Francisco government and local businessesa tremendous amount of dollars.

I think it is fair to ask people to pay for the cost of what they pollute, particularly when almost universally gum chewers throw their gum on the ground, like cigarette buds.

bobbyh's picture

Neighborhood Improvement Districts

Neighborhood Improvement Districts are an amazing model for neighborhoods to really turn their streets and public spaces around.  Now, it is a little bothersome that we pay so much in taxes yet the City can't seem to keep things clean, necessitating merchants to pay more money to actually have things cleaned, but it does work.  Does anyone know if people/merchants that pay into the neighborhood improvement districts get any sort of break on their taxes seeing as they are doing the city's job?  What if we took away the responsibility of cleaning away from city government and instead, used the money to fund neighborhood improvement districts that would budget and spend their funding, along with contributions, to take care of their own neighborhoods?  The City is clearly falling down on its responsibility to citizens here, so let's take the responsibility away and leave it in the hands of the people with most at stake!

Bernadette's picture

Feces on Sidewalks

Although it would be rather expensive and probably present a "free-rider problem," I think having more of those green outdoor public restrooms available that anyone, including homeless people, could use would help solve the problem of feces on the sidewalks.  One could see it as yet another large expense for the city when we're in an economic downturn.  However, one could also hopefully see it more as an investment in public health and city maintenance!

bobbyh's picture

Civic Center CBD

Interesting read on an effort to create a community benefit district (CBD) in the civic center to clean the area up.  I find it funny that City Hall is balking at the price tag to pay for the cleanups, while hundreds of other residents and businesses have ponied up to CBD's to clean their neighborhoods up because the City doesn't...

Phil Ting's picture

CBDs are great

The Civic Center CBD is going to be interesting because the majority are city and state building which will have to pay for additional city services.  It only makes sense.  If the City wants Civic Center clean, maybe we should be looking at contributing into the CBD or dedicating some of the DPW budget to Civic Center.

Litter everywhere

When I visited Tokyo last year, I was amazed to see that the streets there were so clean it looked you could eat off of them. And the surprise: there were almost no garbage cans to be seen anywhere!
I think a resident of Tokyo would feel deeply ashamed if someone spotted them littering. Here in San Francisco, a large number of residents feel absolutely no shame in littering (I see it all the time), urinating in the streets, etc. Not to mention that we have a very large transient population who dig through garbage and distribute it everywhere.
What can be done about this?

Paid for by Phil Ting for Assembly 2012. FPPC ID# 1343137