By Anna Schuessler Daily Journal staff
There may be very little that’s glamorous about the snack wrappers, car parts and other litter and large items residents of San Mateo’s North Central neighborhood have seen left on their streets, but resident Amourence Lee and those galvanized around a neighborhood cleanup effort are determined to find a silver lining.
In coordinating a neighborhood cleanup day June 9 and asking residents to take a pledge to keep neighborhood streets clean, Lee and a growing number of residents are hoping a grassroots campaign will serve a dual purpose: to clean up neighborhood streets and sidewalks and bring residents in the neighborhood together in the process.
“Trash is the great unifier,” said Lee. “People want to see this change and are feeling really excited about how now they have a way to talk to their neighbors about it … . It’s just one of those things, we can’t sit around and wish that we had a better more neighborly neighborhood.”
Also board president of the Home Association of North Central San Mateo, or HANCSM, Lee has observed litter and illegal dumping of large items like furniture and car parts for the nearly 10 years she’s lived in the neighborhood. Lee said the sight of trash on walks to school with her children pained her and, when she got a chance to talk about it with her neighbors, she quickly found she wasn’t the only one dismayed by it.
“The presence of litter is constant and the presence of dumping is constant in our lives,” she said. “I think a lot of people end up having this low-grade isolation and resentment around it.”
With a mission to bring community members together to improve the health and safety of neighborhood residents, those involved with HANCSM were eager to take on the issue and better understand why dumping and littering is prevalent in the neighborhood, said Lee. After contacting city officials, she said the group learned a disproportionate number of illegal dumping instances have been logged in the neighborhood in recent years.
Because of the neighborhood’s socioeconomic diversity, Lee said transitions in and out of housing may be more common in the neighborhood, which can mean more trash generated and few residents aware of how to dispose of it.
In working with officials from the city’s Public Works Department, Code Enforcement and City Manager’s Office, Lee said the group found language may be a barrier for some in accessing existing resources, such as Recology’s bulk item pickup service, which can be requested up to two times a year without charge. She added renters may also have a harder time navigating the services offered, as some require a property owner’s information to unlock, and the conversations have sparked efforts to explore how to reach those who may not be receiving the information.
Roxanne Murray, solid waste recycling programs coordinator for the city’s Public Works Department, was encouraged by the residents’ response to the issue, noting in many instances the accumulation of trash can be chalked up to unawareness about the appropriate way to dispose of an item. In the three years since city officials started putting notices on illegally dumped items notifying owners of a code violation, Murray said instances of dumping have been cut in half, with 80 percent of property owners taking responsibility for the issue or contacting the city to say the item was dumped on their properties.
Murray said the city sees North Central’s cleanup day and efforts to spread awareness of the services that can help address trash as a way to continue the dialogue with residents about what’s allowed and where they can dispose of specific items.
“The goal is to make this positive,” she said. “It’s not about enforcement, it’s about empowerment and giving people the tools that they need.”
To reach as many North Central residents as possible, Lee said those who have committed to the cause have been going door to door to encourage neighbors and community organizations such as churches and schools to take a pledge to keep the neighborhood’s streets clean, join in on the June 9 cleanup day and spread the word amongst their neighbors.
“We are completely pounding the pavement and trying to get as much support as possible,” she said.
By bringing residents together on an issue many agree negatively affects everyone in the community, Lee is hoping the neighborhood’s enthusiasm for taking action against trash will become a community tradition.
“There’s so much more that we can do and I think that the degree in which this has been embraced … is really a positive indication that this will be a sustained effort,” she said.
North Central’s Neighborhood Cleanup Day will start 9 a.m. June 9 at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center, 725 Monte Diablo St. Visit hancsm.wordpress.com/love/ to register for the event and for more information on the Love North Central campaign.