SF’s filthy streets: We’re spending far more on cleaning than other cities

When it comes to street-cleaning costs, San Francisco is in a league of its own.

The 47-square-mile city spends more than four times as much as Chicago does to keep streets clean, according to a recent budget and legislative analyst’s report. And Chicago, at 227 square miles, is almost five times larger than San Francisco.

San Francisco also spends three times as much as Los Angeles — whose population is more than four times greater. It spends five times as much as San Jose and 10 times as much as San Diego.

Do the math, and San Francisco’s fiscal 2016-17 spending total of $35 million worked out to more than $40 per resident to clean its streets.

So for all that money, San Francisco’s streets must sparkle brighter than those in other cities, right?

OK, now that you’ve stopped laughing, we’ll continue.

San Francisco is spending more because it provides more services, answers more public calls for help, and cleans homeless encampments more often, said report co-author Fred Brousseau.

“San Francisco provides these services multiple times per week — more than any of the surveyed cities,” Brousseau said. Those cities included Chicago, Seattle, Minneapolis, Baltimore and Portland, Ore., along with six California cities — Los Angeles, San Diego, Oakland, San Jose, Sacramento and Long Beach.

San Francisco also has more workers on the job, with a cleanup staff of 302. The average in the other cities is 40.

The city received 77,091 street cleanup requests in 2016-17, more than twice as many as any of the other cities. That could be because San Francisco has an active citizenry, or it could be because the streets get dirty faster than in other cities.

One caveat: The report did not compare the efficiency of city workers. “So we can’t comment on whether that is also a factor driving San Francisco’s higher costs,” Brousseau said.

Clearly, throwing money at the problem isn’t fixing it. No sooner are problem streets and alleys cleaned of human waste and drug needles than they’re promptly turned back into outdoor restrooms and shooting galleries.

Supervisor Catherine Stefani, who ordered the analysis, said the high costs should not come as a shock.

“We can’t solve this problem by cleaning up after the fact,” Stefani said. “We need to get to the root causes and do a better job of helping people who are living on the streets and in our shelters.”

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