It was there when Heather Raich arrived on Thurday morning to open up her restaurant, Charanga. Stuck to her window was a notice stating that she needed to clean the gum off the sidewalk in front of her restaurant in the next seven days, or pay a $500 fine.
Charanga is on Mission Street, one of the most heavily trafficked thoroughfares in the neighborhood. The corridor that it resides on – those eight blocks between the 16th and the 24th Street BART stops, could be described as arguably more gum than sidewalk.
“Merry Christmas,” says Raich, dispiritedly. “I’m used to the graffiti citations, but this was a first. I think they’re trying to make up some kind of budget shortfall. At $500 a pop, depending on how many storefronts they hit – that’s some money.”
Not so, says Christine Falvey, a spokeswoman with the Department of Public Works.
Merchants on heavily trafficked streets, like Mission and 24th Streets, have been receiving either brochures or letters about their sidewalk responsibilities, long before the warnings were posted, Falvey says.”The City is responsible for the streets, and the businesses are responsible for the sidewalks. That’s how it works in San Francisco and in most cities.”
Falvey called Mission Loc@l to add that Public Works has been working to improve the streets for more than three years and that the warning letters are just one small part of the city’s beautification goals.
The city already provides assistance with tree removal, graffiti clean up and sidewalk sweeping and are all part of the Community Corridors Partnership Program, Falvey said.
According to some numbers crunched by our former science reporter, Anrica Deb, there is over a ton of gum speckling the sidewalks of the Mission district. Her conclusion: better economic and environmental sense to leave it there than use the water, electricity, and money necessary to get it off. It would take one person working full-time for three years straight to get every last piece of gum off – and that’s only if the people of the Mission spontaneously stopped spitting fresh wads onto the sidewalk.
The employees at La Oxaqueña and Mission Street Liquor and Groceries said they received letters about cleaning up the gum in front of the businesses. Harry from La Oxaqueña said that they scrapped the gum off and wash it off with a pressure washer. This set him back $300 dollars.
Coincidentally, $300 is exactly how much it is going to cost Ismael Karagh, the owner of Farah Smoking Shop, to hire a company to clean his three storefronts.
“This is good for the companies that clean,” Karagh said.
Karagh said he tried to clean the sidewalk and showed a reporter a collection of chemicals he used while trying to clean up the sidewalk. None of them worked, he said.
Business owners were provided a number where they can call someone from the city to help business owners clean their sidewalk.
Karagh instead suggested that the city instead adopt a program in which business owners paid a monthly fee and the city cleans the sidewalks.
“If I pay to clean it up, when they inspect again its going to be back,” he said.
Either way, those who dispose of their gum on the sidewalk are leaving business owners in a sticky situation.
As for those gum chewers, who cause the issue to begin with, Harry of La Oxaqueña asks, “What can you do?”