Berkeley Street Sweeping Programs
L A Wood, Berkeley Voice, November 30, 1992

Street sweeping in Berkeley has been around since the horse and buggy days. Initially this municipal maintenance activity was not broad in scope, but the objectives of street cleaning have remained fairly constant through time. Early street sweeping activities focused on control of animal droppings and litter. The idea of cleaning streets has always been associated with health and safety.

Originally, mechanical sweeping of city residential streets was done on a request for service basis only. As more requests were made, Berkeley formulated a citywide street sweeping program. In 1987 the City Council, through resolution, authorized this program to include an enforced parking component. This 1987 program was designed to be implemented in four phases (see attachment).

street sweeping protest signsBy 1990 all but the final phase (4) of the street sweeping program had been implemented. Because of citizen opposition to various aspects of the program, Public Works began a reassessment of the then current residential (non leaf) street sweeping program. Following this investigation the city put forth recommendations for an IMPROVED street cleaning program.

Our million dollar a year street sweeping program is based on a policy of mechanically sweeping MOST residential streets monthly and commercial areas daily. (The policy excludes certain streets in the Berkeley hills which have no curb or are too steep for mechanical sweeping.) In addition, the new program supports a separate leaf removal component, steam cleaning services, targeted sidewalk/gutter cleaning in commercial areas and OPT-OUT PROCEDURES FOR RESIDENTIAL STREET SWEEPING.

Opt-out for residential street cleaning

Berkeley's "opt-out" feature was developed to address the concerns of neighborhoods that do not wish to participate in the enforced parking component of the residential street sweeping program. This exemption has meant that neighborhoods who petitioned and met certain criteria would neither be subject to the installation of signs restricting parking on sweeping days nor would there be enforcement of parking restrictions through the issuance of citations.

It is acknowledged that "enforced parking insures that cars will be removed from the street on sweeping day so that the city's mechanical sweepers are able to reach the curb." Without controlled parking, residential sweeping only achieves ten to twenty percent effectiveness Berkeley is the ONLY participant of the seventeen member water program with an "opt-out" dimension to their sweeping program.

There are several criteria for exclusion of residential streets from controlled parking. Streets must be in low litter, low density neighborhoods, and not in commercial or industrial districts. Berkeley has very few areas that could be viewed as low density. Our 18 square miles of city ranks high for urban density in the nation. As Berkeley citizens we all recognize that most of the city's automobile problems relate to issues of auto density as well.

Sixty-six percent of the households on each street must sign a petition to opt-out. Petitioners are subject to a public hearing process and are required to take partial responsibility for the maintenance of their own street. A city/neighborhood liaison is also established. Since the inclusion of the final phase (4) in October 1991, nearly sixty streets have been successful at "opting out" from Berkeley's residential sweeping program. All the streets that have successfully petitioned to "opt-out" have remained outside the purview of the enforced parking component. To date, no instructions on cleaning city streets have been issued to residents.

Records show that the majority of "opt-out" streets are clustered in the north of Berkeley, Thousand Oaks and the southeast Claremont areas. The criteria to "opt-out" are specially limited and exclude much of Central, South, and West Berkeley. An inspection of "opted-out" streets bears out this fact and raises questions of the fairness of the policy.

Urban Runoff Clean Water Program

Over a year ago, city council enacted an ordinance authorizing Berkeley's participation in a countywide runoff program. Our city joined in the Alameda County Urban Clean Water Program (ACURCWP). Berkeley and sixteen other municipalities and agencies came together for the purpose of filing for a joint stormwater permit. This National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit (NPDES) requires a stormwater program to encompass designated clean stormwater activities.

NPDES permits include both general (countywide) and individual (city by city) program activities and represent the basis for our stormwater plan. The general program (plan) of the ACURCWP supports both a management committee and subcommittees that provide recommendations on policy, fiscal, and substantive technical issues. Central to program development and strategies relating to runoff is the Maintenance Subcommittee. This standing subcommittee's objectives are described as follows:

The object of this subcommittee is to provide outreach to the municipal employees conducting street cleaning and storm inlet cleaning; to identify, develop, and disseminate information on Best Management Practices (BMPs) to improve the pollutant removal effectiveness of these activities; and aid in the implementation of the Municipal Government Activities Program Component (Section 6) of the Plan.

A major charge of the Maintenance Subcommittee has been the development of BMPs for the street sweeping processes. The ACURCWP (which includes Berkeley) has employed several engineering groups to help with this process. In July of this year, the ideas of these groups were instituted into our Clean Water Plan. It should be noted that street sweeping is not, as yet, a mandated process by the NPDES permit. It is, however, recognized by the CWP as an important strategy in controlling the pollutants that coat our streets and become part of the runoff.

The study of BMPs for street sweeping has been centered on the various technical aspects of mechanical and vacuum type sweepers. This inquiry has included such issues as vehicle speed, brush height, and route selection, with an emphasis on completeness Recent research has clearly shown that fine dust on the streets is a substantial source of pollution. In Berkeley, our several vacuum sweepers remove more of this fine dust than either mechanical (broom) or manual sweeping. As a consequence, these vacuum type sweepers do more to minimize toxic pollutants that enter the storm drain system as runoff.

Without BMPs for "opt-out" residents many questions arise concerning just how Berkeley streets are cleaned by its citizens. Is there the use of water? How much of the street do they clean? Are the pollutants removed? What about the dust The answers to these questions are important in understanding of the level of effectiveness of street cleaning to our Urban Runoff Clean Water Program. Street sweeping has become more than litter control.


The objectives of Berkeley's street sweeping program have been extended to include toxic pollutants which accumulate on road pavement and then are spilled or washed into the storm drain system. A list of these street borne pollutants includes gasoline, diesel, oil, grease, and heavy metals that relate directly to auto use. These pollutants, if not removed from our streets, flow untreated into the Bay where they create hazards to fish and wildlife and degrade water quality.

In the seasonal message from the City Manager (Summer '92), there was an attempt to introduce our Clean Water Program to Berkeley residents. It describes types of pollutants and that "Berkeley wants to do its share of the cleanup." Nowhere is the message about the use and effects of street sweeping as a major strategy in the runoff program mentioned. This is a subtle but important idea for our community that can't be overemphasized. A stronger recognition is needed to the importance of mechanical sweeping and its link to urban runoff water quality.

There is no doubt that "opting-out" reduces the effectiveness of our city's Clean Water Plan. Controlled parking does directly affect the quality of the sweeping process. No sweeper, mechanical or vacuum, can sweep under cars. Automobile parking and those issues associated with high density make Berkeley streets less likely to be vacant during the monthly sweeper day without the added feature of enforced parking. Knowing that 90% of all street debris lies within 12 inches of the road's edge, it is essential that city street sweepers have absolute and unobstructed access during cleaning.

The City of Berkeley annually spends a million dollars in support of our environmental Clean Water Program in addition to the million dollars budgeted every year for its street sweeping program. At the county level, the Clean Water Program contributes to the development of runoff strategies. Over the last two years the many committees and studies have produced a number of ideas on runoff control, ideas that we have purchased. Berkeley needs to advantage itself through the use of these ideas, especially when implementing our street sweeping program. The overall responsibility for our citywide Clean Water Program is not with Alameda County, but ourselves.

Environmentally speaking, the "opt-out" component of the general sweeping program reflects negatively on Berkeley. Outside our city, the perception is that Berkeley's sweeping program does less. This perception is not wrong. The environmental sweep-up should be complete. No municipality that has our relative urban density should have a "opt-out" feature. Every automobile should be able to be moved one day a month for a period of three hours Auto owners should be required do their little part for the environment.

Currently, Berkeley is proceeding with a public awareness program involving the stenciling of storm drains. This same process should be done with street sweeping. The city should place stickers linking Berkeley's sweeper program to the runoff Clean Water Program on existing controlled parking signs. Perhaps you could make it reflective blue and white. They could stand as an important reminder that sweeping is more than litter control.

Rescind resolutions No. 55,860-N.S. and No. 56,674-N.S.

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