San Franciscans are likely to see slower response times to street cleaning requests and a reduction in landscaping and tree maintenance in their neighborhoods following a number of layoffs announced this week at the Department of Public Works. Twenty four street cleaning positions are being cut along with 15 gardening and arborist positions.
"This was our share and it’s unpleasant," said DPW Director Ed Reiskin. As a result of the city budget crisis, the department was forced to slash its street cleaning budget by $2.7 million and trim its landscaping budget by $800,000. A reduction in street sweeping services was announced last month.
The cuts come right as San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s office embarks on a number of new projects to green space and improve the public realm. The landscaping positions being eliminated include crews who’ve been heavily involved in the Pavement to Parks projects. Reiskin predicted the cuts wouldn’t have a direct impact on those efforts, but rather, would affect the agency’s ability to maintain landscaped medians, trim trees and respond to service requests.
"Nobody was spared and this just challenges us more to figure out how to be more efficient and use more in the way of low-maintenance planting, which we’re trying to move more towards, so we need less gardening."
He said behavioral changes must also be made in the city to reduce the amount of litter and garbage.
"When I say landscape maintenance, and even when it’s a gardener that we send out there, a skilled journey-level gardener, a lot of what they end up doing is picking up garbage," he said, adding that graffiti removal also takes up a huge chunk of the agency’s budget, meaning less money for beautification projects.
"The greening of the city remains a priority. It’s in our department’s strategic plan and there’s a very clear and strong directive from the Mayor so the fact that our resources are tightened doesn’t really detract from the goal, it just makes it more challenging for us to reach it."
A DPW spokesperson said the agency will do its best to minimize the impacts
of the cuts "by increasing our community partnerships, through programs such as Street Parks,
Adopt A Street, Community Clean Team, and Graffiti Watch."
The layoff notices were sent out this week and are expected to take effect in mid-November.