Angel Mayorga, a 63-year-old resident who has lived in the Mission his whole life, recently watched a “young fellow” pull up in a U-Haul and dump three to four pieces of furniture “close to my place,” he wrote in outrage.
So, yes, he explains, he has “noticed an increase in plain old garbage and furniture on the streets dumped anywhere.”
Turns out, he’s right. When walking the streets of San Francisco, old office chairs, broken Ikea shelves, and dirty mattresses are as common as Honda Civics.
Indeed, complaints of garbage and dumping in the Mission over the past six months have increased by 21 percent, to an average of 2,988 a month, according to 311 data. And most of those complaints involve bulky items, similar to the ones dumped in front of Mayorga’s place near 16th and Albion streets.
Residents who have large items to discard can schedule a curbside bulky item recycling pickup at no additional cost two times per year through Recology. The company now under scrutiny for alleged bribery said that it takes 10 days, on average, to get an appointment, but that seems to be rare. On Jan. 12, 2021, when one of Mission Local’s editors made an appointment, the earliest pickup was January 30. On Jan. 19, the next available appointment was Feb. 15.
Others said that getting an appointment takes weeks, if not more than a month, according to residents.
So, even in normal times, if a resident is moving, or wants to get rid of something quickly, they’re liable to dump it on a side street.
Robert Reed, a spokesman for Recology, says that, pre-pandemic, Recology had 22 trucks and 22 drivers collecting abandoned waste and assigned to the Bulky Item Recycling program.
Reed said they had noticed an increase in requests during the pandemic, and hired four more drivers. That, he said, increased “bulky-item collection capacity by 60 percent.”
In effect, that allowed Recology to add four new Bulky Item Recycling Program routes (moving from 10 to 14 total routes) and increasing service to include Saturday collection, Reed said.
But it seems to not be enough. And, when the furniture ends up on the sidewalk and residents like Mayorga file a 311 complaint, it is up to the Department of Public Works to send 311 bulky-item pickup requests to Recology, and Recology to service public trash cans and remove large furniture items for residents who have made an appointment.
Rachel Gordon of San Francisco Public Works acknowledged that residents may be reluctant to wait the 10 days or more for Recology to make a pickup.
So, Gordon says, Public Works is “working with [Recology] on a pilot program to address bulky item pickup” by prioritizing people who make appointments.
The number of pickup appointments made and total tons collected attest to the popularity of the Bulky Item Recycling Program.
The number of pickup appointments made has tripled in 10 years, from 31,163 in 2011 to 90,108 for the first 11 months of 2020. Total tons collected through the program also more than doubled in 10 years, from 4,386 in 2011 to 9,156 for the first 11 months of 2020.
And, between 2019 and 2020, bulky-item recycling requests increased by 47 percent, according to Reed.
So, too, have the complaints. Over the past six months, complaints in the Mission have increased by 514, according to 311 data. Notably, requests for the removal of large bulky items, such as furniture, have increased to an average of 1,428 over the past six months, up from 900 for the six months previous, or a 59-percent increase.
An increase in residents moving out of the city has not helped an enduring dumping issue.
Some 89,000 households have moved out of the city since the pandemic began in mid-March, according to the U.S. Postal Service data, so the hike in large items left behind on the sidewalk is a sign of the times. But, even pre-pandemic days, disposing of bulky items can take a significant amount of time. It is also unclear exactly how many people have moved to San Francisco during this time.
Mayorga said it should not be up to residents to constantly notify 311 of trash and large items on the street.
Gordon from DPW said that they try to do outreach to folks and get them to understand that it is important to do their part to keep the city clean.
“People decide they would rather have the convenience to throw it on the street” instead of properly disposing of things, Gordon said.
Paul Monge, a legislative aide to Supervisor Hillary Ronen, agreed that dumping was up.
“The high frequency of movement — with people breaking their leases to move to more affordable housing or leaving the city — has meant an increase in garbage on the streets and dumping of used furniture,” said Monge.
Ticketing has been difficult, if not impossible.
“In a city of our size, with the number of people that are there, enforcement is typically complaint-driven, because of the quantity of issues that need to be responded to. Scanning the streets of things to clean is hard, so responses of departments are driven by complaints,” continued Monge.
Goodwill, which normally accepts donations of furniture and even will pick up used furniture, is not currently taking donations at most of its donation locations, with the exception of 121 Wisconsin St. and 3605 Buchanan St., as of Jan. 20.
This is also a likely factor in the increase of large items visible on San Francisco streets.
So, for now, other than the pilot program between Recology and DPW, expect to see more furniture on the street. No one seems to have any plans to prevent that.
“There is room for improvement, and we try to respond and step up and do more things as demand has increased.” said Reed, who added that Recology was trying to do more to make residents aware of their pickup program. But awareness appears to be less of an issue than patience in waiting for Recology to swing by.