Palo Alto's residential streets may soon get a bit leafier under a sweeping change proposed by the city's Public Works Department.
The proposal, which the City Council's Finance Committee will consider Tuesday night, calls for reducing the frequency of street-sweeping in residential and light-commercial areas from once a week to every other week. The change would only be effective during non-leaf season, between mid-February and mid-October. The department is also proposing to contract out this service, a change that is expected to save about $649,000 annually and allow the city to eliminate seven full-time positions.
In a new report, Public Works officials cite a recent survey of neighboring cities, which shows that Palo Alto sweeps its streets more frequently. Most other jurisdictions sweep streets every other week, with exceptions for large commercial areas.
Under the new proposal, downtown and California Avenue would continue to be swept three times a week, though this work would now be contracted out. The contractor would also sweep El Camino Real on a weekly basis. The city's parking lots, bike paths and downtown sidewalks would also be swept weekly, with in-house staff and existing contractors performing the work.
To test the impacts of reducing frequency, Public Works staff instituted the changes on a pilot basis last year. The pilot program, which covered a quarter of the city's streets, encouraged the city to conclude that the change should be adopted on a permanent basis. In December, Public Works reported that while the reduced frequency of sweeping residential streets "does allow for debris to collect for a longer period of time in the streets (compared to weekly sweeping), the street-sweeping staff were still able to complete their routes without having to work longer hours or make extra passes."
The frequency change did not result in more debris in catch basins or in phone calls for residents asking for "make-up" sweeping, staff reported.
"In conclusion, the Pilot program did not have a significant environmental impact in the areas where the Pilot was implemented and Staff believes that the Pilot programs was successful in that it shows us no reasons for concern when decreasing the sweeping frequency from once every week to once every two weeks during the non-leaf season," the December report stated.
City officials also believe the change will bring numerous environmental benefits, including less noise, traffic congestion, vehicle emissions and impacts to roadway surfaces. The contractor is also expected to use new sweeping equipment with lower air-quality emissions, according to a new report that the Finance Committee will consider Tuesday.
While the change could bring more debris to residential streets, it will have a more welcome effect on refuse bills. The street-sweeping operation is currently funded by the department's Refuse Fund, which relies on revenues from refuse ratepayers. The refuse rates are expected to climb in the coming years, as the city embarks on an ambitious overhaul of its organic-waste operation. The goal ultimately is to build a new waste-to-energy plant that would process food scraps and sewage sludge and generate electricity. In the near term, the city is looking to make upgrades to the Regional Water Quality Control Plant so that it can retire its sludge-burning incinerators.
The new report from Public Works states that the cost reductions resulting from reduced sweeping frequency "would help reduce the need for larger future Refuse Rate increases for our residential and commercial customers." Furthermore, eliminating the in-house positions would lead to savings in future years because of reduced health care and pension costs.
The report also notes that potentially displaced street-sweeping employees "have been offered and are receiving cross-training that would help them qualify for open positions with the City." Staff is proposing to award the sweeping contract to local company Contract Sweeping Services, which also sweeps streets in Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, San Carlos and Cupertino. According to the new report, Contract Sweeping Services has indicated that it would be willing to interview and potentially hire up to four potentially laid-off employees "at a wage that is comparable to their current salaries in Palo Alto."