On Camp Street at Albion. Screenshot from the video.

Who cleans up our streets? from Mission Local on Vimeo.

A Mission resident who lives on Albion called 311 Wednesday at around 8:30 a.m. about a pile of trash on the north side of Camp Street. Later, I sent a notice and photo about the same debris on the city’s 311 app. The complaint #9281971 requested street or sidewalk cleaning at the intersection of Albion and Camp St.

At 10:30 a.m. or so, the resident who made the initial call heard ranting outside his window. He looked out and saw a gentleman walking somewhat wildly on the south corner of Camp Street. He wondered if he should call someone — the police, or 311 again?

Was the gentleman on the corner a danger to himself or anyone? No, the resident decided. He kept watching.

In fits and starts, the man put on the blue gloves that sanitation workers use. He had a plastic bucket and a bottle of some spray liquid. He headed for the trash on the north side of Camp Street. The resident began to take short videos of the slow, sometimes erratic organization of the trash.

He did not see who eventually came for the trash, but he sent me the video. Clearly, he thought, there was a connection between the gentleman cleaning up the mess and the eventual collection of the debris.

To find out and to identify the gentleman, I sent the video to Rachel Gordon, the press spokesperson for the Department of Public Works.

“The fella is not one of our employees, nor is he in one of our workforce development programs,” Gordon wrote in an e-mail. “I don’t know who he is. (Our workers and workforce development partners wear identifying vests.) Our crew or a Recology crew probably did pick up the trash afterward because of the 311 request.”

I called Robert Reed at Recology and sent him the video as well. Again, he said, the man was not an employee and he did not know who he was. He said it was most likely that DPW came by for the trash.

I looked around the neighborhood thinking I might see the anonymous hero, but I could not find him.

The ticket is still open. A 311 operator looked it up on Saturday morning. It was still in DPW’s work queue and the trash should be picked up within three days. Once done, he said, the ticket would be closed.

If anyone knows who the gentleman is or how to get in touch with him, please contact me at lydia.chavez@missionlocal.com

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Founder/Executive Editor. I’ve been a Mission resident since 1998 and a professor emeritus at Berkeley’s J-school since 2019 when I retired. I got my start in newspapers at the Albuquerque Tribune in the city where I was born and raised. Like many local news outlets, The Tribune no longer exists. I left daily newspapers after working at The New York Times for the business, foreign and city desks. Lucky for all of us, it is still there.

As an old friend once pointed out, local has long been in my bones. My Master’s Project at Columbia, later published in New York Magazine, was on New York City’s experiment in community boards.

Right now I'm trying to figure out how you make that long-held interest in local news sustainable. The answer continues to elude me.

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  1. Nobody fears being caught by the SFPD in the act of committing crimes, be they regularly dumping trash on the streets, recklessly driving or hoovering the shelves at Walgreens. There is no deterrence, only after-the-fact hand wringing. This way, we get to pay cops to not enforce the law and pay people to clean up after the law is broken.

  2. This is interesting. This morning (Saturday, 7-21) I was parked behind the Floorcraft Nursery on Bayshore and there was what I took to be a homeless guy cleaning up some of the messes left behind by other homeless people. I’ve seen homeless people sweeping around their encampments, but what this guy was doing, was well beyond that. He was, as above, organizing and collecting trash.