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The city is about to get a scrubbing.
Mayor Eric Adams last week said the city would invest $14.5 million this fiscal year in a cross-agency effort to clean up neglected areas and neighborhoods, increase litter basket pickups and expand enforcement against illegal dumping.
Under the mantra of “Get Stuff Clean,” the city is hiring another 200 Sanitation Department workers and adding shifts and personnel for hot spot cleaning and rat mitigation in city parks.
The program also calls for the initial and continued cleanup of roughly 1,500 areas citywide that have been neglected for years, the clearing of highway on- and off-ramps and the hiring of 50 workers to clean sewer grates. Among the program’s priorities will be city-owned properties, Adams said.
Starting this week, Adams said at the Nov. 10 announcement in Brooklyn’s Borough Park, “we are going directly into these areas to get them clean and keep them clean. This is not a one-and-done.”
The cross-agency endeavor will corral efforts by departments of Sanitation, Parks and Recreation, Environmental Protection, Transportation and Health and Mental Hygiene.
“But when it comes to judging cleanliness in our city, none of these agency names or their specific jurisdiction means anything to New Yorkers, nor should they,” First Deputy Mayor Meera Joshi said at the announcement. “However, decades of disparate decisions means that the responsibility for our city’s cleanliness is segmented and inefficient, so eyesores abound. And that’s not acceptable,” she said.
She and Adams said the initiative would be among those cornerstone efforts by the administration to streamline city government’s public-service obligations. “We are going to continue to dismantle the walls that prevent us from getting stuff done because we have too many, just territorial interactions and fractions and it's just not acceptable to use taxpayers' dollars in this way,” he said.
Adams suggested it could be a challenge to find the necessary funds. But, he added, the program was essential for the city and its residents. “We have a real financial crisis, but a clean city is going to impact our recovery and New Yorkers deserve to have a clean city. And so we have to prioritize those things that are important,” he said.
He said he had been hearing complaints from residents about litter, overflowing trash bins and poor coordination on pickup times since his days as Brooklyn borough president.
“Our city needs to be clean. I hear it over and over again: Overflowing waste baskets, lack of pickup,” he said. “And so residents were doing their job; we were not doing our job.”
He vowed: “America's biggest city is going to be America's cleanest city.”
Adams said the agencies, working together, identified 1,000 areas “in need of intensive cleanup.”
“The residents of this community have been talking about this for a long time. Trash on the sidewalk, equipment being discarded, just no real concerted or proactive response to the trash,” he said.
DSNY Commissioner Jessica Tisch, addressing the “no-man’s lands” that have been neglected through the years, suggested they, and nearby residents, were victims of bureaucratic overreach “that ended up being used for decades to obfuscate responsibility.”
Referring to the area around where the announcement took place and nearby Brizzi Playground, “Even this spot right here, where you've got a curb line next to a park, an area under a staircase, and rights of way all within view,” would need the coordination of the Parks, Transportation and Sanitation departments “to each clean their small slice of the block,” with Environmental Protection called in to attend to catch basins.
“Instead, we are now working as one city, cutting the bureaucratic nonsense that has kept these places too dirty for too long,” she said.
‘Pay these people’
The president of the Uniformed Sanitationmen's Association, Teamsters Local 831, Harry Nespoli, welcomed the added numbers to his rolls to better tackle problem areas.
“Finally, they’re recognizing the fact that we need more manpower for that,” he said following the announcement. “We can’t do house-to-house collection and also turn around and spot-clean the city of New York” even, he added, if Sanit workers “would have got around there anyway.”
But the union leader used the occasion to call attention to the December expiration of the contract for his roughly 7,000 members. “We need a contract, that’s what we need,” he said.
He said he is awaiting a response from the Office of Labor Relations regarding his wish, conveyed in a recent letter to City Hall, to begin negotiations on a new agreement. “Why do we always have to be behind?” he said. “These city workers … have been through hell and it’s about time somebody wakes up and starts paying these people,” he said, referring to essential employees who kept at their jobs through the worst of the pandemic.
“Now somebody has to sit up and recognize ... what this workforce in the city of New York has been thorough,” Nespoli said.
Joshi said the initiative builds on top of already instituted mandates to help keep the city clean such as the return of alternate side parking regulations, increased litter-basket pickups, the reinstitution of curbside organics collection and scaled-back set-out times for black garbage bags. “As we come out of COVID and our city springs back into action,” Joshi said, “we need to ensure that every strip and corner of our city is clean, vibrant and inviting for humans, not rats.”
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