Government Health & Environment

Raucous Debate Ensues as City Introduces Year-Round Street Sweeping

P1010159City officials knew that asking North End residents to move their cars for winter street sweeping would not be popular, but they probably did not expect a partial walk-out at last night’s community meeting. With the promise of cleaner streets, the Public Works Department (PWD) made their case. Tempers flared when it was clear that City Hall’s decision was made. Some residents blamed officials for putting the onus on residents for the trash problem.

Instead of halting mechanical sweeping during the winter, the pilot program will use new mechanical street sweepers during the months of December through March.  Because it requires no water, the machine can be used in freezing weather without fear of adding ice to the roads. A new sweeper was on display outside the Nazzaro Center meeting.

Depending on the specific street, car owners will have to move their cars about twice per month or risk ticketing or towing. The Public Works Department says the cars have to be moved in order to allow for the mechanical street sweepers to get to the curb and clean the gutters. The pilot program may be rolled out to the rest of the city after an evaluation in the Spring 2011.

District 1 City Councilor Sal LaMattinaCity Officials Give An Overview of the Pilot Program
District 1 City Councilor Sal LaMattinaCity Officials Give An Overview of the Pilot Program

“I am here to ask for your help and support for the pilot program,” said City Councilor Sal LaMattina. “We have been trying to get the North End streets cleaned for years. I get numerous complaints about the trash on the streets and as a result, the rodents. We have a good team, including a new commissioner who is committed to working with us. PWD’s Frank O’Brien regularly attends the Clean Streets meetings and John Meany is here from Inspectional Services.”

“I have been out there, talking to business owners and getting them to help,” continued LaMattina. “I have knocked on doors asking if we can put out more street barrel in front of buildings. I personally send out letters to problem landlords. I have even thrown trash back in doorways when it shouldn’t be out on the streets.”

The Councilor explained why he believes moving the cars is so important. “We can’t get to the gutters. We have hoakeys (manual street sweepers) that are helping, but to really clean the streets you need to move the cars. I only get a handful of complaints about the cars getting towed or ticketed. I get many more complaints about the filthy conditions of the streets. Give this a chance. If you live on Endicott St, it’s only twice a month.”

City Councilor Sal LaMattina complemented the NEWRA Clean Streets Committee for supporting the pilot program. LaMattina also complemented State Representative Aaron Michlewitz and State Senator Anthony Petruccelli for passing the Green Ticket law.

Frank O’Brien, Public Works Department, at the Nazzaro Center meeting.
Frank O’Brien, Public Works Department, at the Nazzaro Center meeting.

Defending the pilot program, PWD’s Frank O’Brien said, “The North End has the perfect storm with six days of residential trash (three pickups per week) on the streets and over 90 eating establishments in the neighborhood. In addition, the North End is the State’s #2 tourist destination after Fenway Park.”

“We don’t have an army of manual street cleaners. We cannot go through this for another year. DPW gets deluged with phone calls. There are simply too many rodent problems. We have tried voluntary car moving programs with temporary signs. The signs either get ripped down or no one moves their cars. The situation is unacceptable to the Public Works Department.”

How Winter Street Sweeping Will Work

Explaining the particulars, O’Brien said, “If there is snow and ice in the gutter and the temperature stays below freezing, we won’t be sweeping and you won’t have to move your car. If the sweeper can’t get to the gutter, you won’t have to move your car. Mother Nature is going to play a major role. If there is snow forecast the night before, we won’t be sweeping the next day.”

The City will communicate whether the streets will be cleaned by 9:00 pm the night before the scheduled street sweeping using its “No Tow” program (View and sign-up for “No Tow” emails). Currently, there are only 175 subscribers in the North End.

Those without email can call Mayor’s Hotline at 617-635-4500 the night before to find out if there will be sweeping the next day. Officials say the ticket officers are always ahead of the sweepers, not behind. Once the sweeper has gone through in the morning, you can put your car back.

To soften the blow, PWD said that once the cars are away, they can will get a dump truck and take out the snow. “This should free up more parking spaces. We can also fill pot holes, etc.”

Some residents left the meeting in protest.
Some residents left the meeting in protest.

Residents React and Tempers Flare

After the half-hour presentation by city officials, a group of residents strongly spoke out against the program and the way it was introduced to the neighborhood. Jorge Mendoza, resident and business owner addressed the officials, “I have been a member of the neighborhood council (NEWNC) for over a year. I have never heard a word from you. The NEWRA Clean Streets committee does not represent the needs of the community. We represent the community. I sit with LaMattina’s representative (i.e., NEWNC President Stephen Passacantilli) every month and I have to read about it in the Globe?”

“The streets are filthy because we live in a high density area,” Mendoza continued. “We generate high taxes for the City. You are making money from us. There are a lot of logistics with the pilot program that won’t work. The program has no regard for seniors and those that cannot move their car after the 9:00 pm notification. The email notification is for specific streets but residents can park anywhere in the North End. Parking in the summer is difficult. Forget about it in the winter. There was no forum before this was decided. As a NEWNC member, I represent the group of people that elected me. Nobody informed us. Businesses already have to pay meal taxes. Our property taxes just went up at the worst time. City Hall is doing this after the Mayor was elected.”

PWD’s O’Brien responded, “We are not here to vote on the pilot program. The PWD is driving this bus. We are getting deluged with complaints. This is not up for discussion. This decision is made, with the backing of the Mayor’s office.”

Supporting the PWD, Councilor LaMattina added, “I am not going to hide from this issue. These are people’s homes. The streets are much cleaner in the summer months with street sweeping. We are making an effort. Give us some credit.”

“It is a done deal. We read about it in the Globe. Why are we here?” complained one resident.

A 71 year-old resident of Noyes Place said she did not have a problem with moving the cars, but complained about the general trash in the neighborhood. “The filth is ridiculous. We are paying big property taxes. I was in Nice, France on vacation and they wash down the streets every morning. The city is clean as a whistle.”

“We have a ton of people picking through the trash every night,” added Mendoza. “There is no police presence at night. The solution is not double-ply bags. Suffolk students flip the restaurant barrels over every night. My property is clean because I clean it. None of us want to live in a dirty neighborhood. The spin on the issue is what kills us. Most residents put out their garbage correctly, other than young Suffolk students. These vandals also destroy our properties by puking and pissing in the name of liberating themselves. We need to have more police presence.”

The Walk-Out: At this point in the meeting, a back and forth argument ensued between a group of residents and city officials with several people yelling and speaking over one another. A group of 7-10 residents unhappy with the pilot program walked out of the meeting. After a pause, the Q&A period resumed.

Mark, a local store owner, asked why the rat problem was due to the paper trash in the gutters. John Meany from Inspectional Services said that the rats look for papers and containers with food residue. “They live subsurface and come up at night. Rat sightings are down because the streets have been cleaner.”

A resident asked about how the restaurants put out their trash. “Many restaurants seem to have two bins and 30 bags of trash that don’t fit in the bins.” LaMattina and Inspectional Services said they would contact businesses that are not putting trash in bins.

Tina Busa said to officials, “I don’t want you to dismiss the manual street cleaning. I speak to the workers and they don’t respond.” PWD officials said, “It is not the most glamorous job in the world. We recognize the problem and that is why the mechanical street cleaning is so important.”

A resident on Endicott St. said, “The #1 issue is absentee landlords and the college parties. I am tired of reporting them. I spent over $8,500 on sound proof windows. Even after a sleeping pill, they still wake me up. This madness of frustration is due to people getting away with things. Most at fault are the absentee landlords. They cause most of the noise and garbage.”

Councilor LaMattina responded, “We have a problem properties task-force for issues like that. We made an arrest at that party.”

A resident asked, “Can a leaf blower push the gutter trash so the mechanical sweeper can pick it up without moving the cars?” Officials said, “That is not the best way to do it.”

Another resident questioned the enforcement of the Green Ticket law, “Why should I get a ticket when others put trash in front of my property?” A discussion ensued regarding how code enforcement issues tickets when they cannot find an address in the illegally placed trash.

PWD’s Frank O’Brien concluded the meeting by saying, “We knew this was not going to be popular. But as the Public Works Department, we know we have to do this to clean up the North End.”

Below is the official pilot program notice from Public Works:

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Editors note: In a web poll on with 116 unique votes as of this writing, 66% are in favor of the year-round street sweeping program and 34% opposed.

View articles on “Street Sweeping.”

8 Replies to “Raucous Debate Ensues as City Introduces Year-Round Street Sweeping

  1. Unbelievable that some people would rather have garbage in the streets and rats running rampant in their own neighborhood and outsiders dissing the North End for it than to have to move their cars for street cleaning. The next step should be to try to get the noisy, disrespectful Suffolk students out of the neighborhood. They belong in Suffolk dorms.

  2. Except when Suffolk tried to build a dorm on boston common, those neighbors complained and the city put up a stink. NIMBY at its finest. The students aren't going anywhere, and they shouldn't…it's a free country and you can live where you want to live. The city needs to respond the way they have to parties. Respond to complaints, make arrests, and break things up. I feel like the college students catch a lot of flack for the "puking and pissing" which could really be anyone. There are a lot of 23-27 year old north end residents that do the same, as well as people from outside the neighborhood. I walked out of my building about 6mos ago and a young woman was urinating in my doorway….she saw me and ran back to a car that was waiting on the corner…with NH plates. Doubtful that was a suffolk student. Bottom line, if you want to minimize the rat problem, you have to clean the streets. If you don't want to move your car, the streets won't get cleaned and the rats will increase. It's your call.

  3. I support this. Maybe it will keep cars from parking on the streets for 3, 4, 5 weeks at a time without shoveling it out. Not shoveling your car out for weeks at a time takes up 3 spots. If having to move your car because of street sweeping, I'm all for it. Anything to make the neighborhood cleaner. This remedy is more than reasonable.

  4. I am REALLY tired of everyone blaming Suffolk U students, absentee landlords, tourists, restaurant owners etc. for the trash and every other problem in the North End. Come on people. I see trash pickers ripping open every bag looking for bottles ( I have been asking our City Councillor going back to Paul S. days to file a home rule petition to eliminate the bottle/can deposit in Boston), long time residents throwing trash bags out the window or in city trash barrels, everyone using supermarket or CVS bags as trash bags or putting out greasy pizza boxes ( which the rats seem to love), people who put out trash out at all hours and then argue with you when you point out they are not supposed to put it out yet, young professionals and others who put trash out on Fri night so it doesn't stink up their apts while they are gone for the weekend or week. Isn't it time we ALL started taking responsibility and tried to work with City officials instead of fighting them because it is inconvenient to move my car in the winter. I admit that I haven't owned a car in years and am a devote Zipster. Maybe the city could help things a bit by arranging for discounted parking for a few hours (or overnight) at the Parcel 7 garage or Sargents Wharf (owned by the BRA) or the Kinney Garage in the winter so that people will have a place to park when it is "their" street's turn to be cleaned. I don't know how you would identify who should get the discounted parking, but I am sure it could be worked out.

  5. Suffolk students have also been a chronic problem on Beacon Hill. I read recently that Suffolk is proposing to move most of their classrooms off Beacon Hill to minimize the amount of student traffic there. That's good for Beacon Hill.

  6. BTW, I realize that Suffolk students are only one piece of the problem. I am less than sympathetic to some of them because I lived on Beacon Hill for two years and it was the same there: loud student parties, public drunkenness, throwing beer bottles around, etc. It got so bad that the best landlords with the nicest buildings no longer rent to undergrads. The Beacon Hill Civic Assoc. has worked constantly with Suffolk to try to resolve some of the issues the students brought into the neighborhood.

    That said, there is plenty of blame to go around in the North End. My point was that students have no real investment in the North End. They live here simply because it's close to their school. If some of them are breaking the law and the police get involved, they are reported to their school and the school can decide to dismiss them. Then they have no reason to live in the North End and will leave. There needs to be tougher penalties for everyone, not just students.If we can eliminate the incentives for people to be trash pickers and start to penalize them instead, that will help A LOT. Also ticketing people who refuse to move their cars for the street sweepers. And so on. Historically, the North End is a very special place. It deserves to be cleaned, protected and preserved.

  7. Trace the money and you'll figure this out. The tow company has made over a million dollars in fees in the past 16 months.

    The street cleaning doesn't do anything to fend of the rats. It's an awful idea enforced by people who don't park on the streets.

  8. It's easy for those who don't park in the streets to say this is a great idea. Why should I have to spend 60 to 90 minutes 3 times a week to move my car back and forth so that the city can milk the residents out of money under the false pretense of rats. Yes, there are rats in the north end. But the street sweeping does nothing to stop that problem. The rats come after the trash on the sidewalk or in the barrels not on the road underneath a Camry.

    If you don't park in the street you shouldn't be able to have any say on street cleaning times. All it does is anger the cititzens of the north end so that they retaliate another way against the city. Everytime I have to get up in the morning to spend 90 minutes at 6 am trying to find a non existent parking spot – I purposely take my trash and dump it in the street somewhere to bring the rats out. How do you like those apples??? That's what you get for forcing a law on people. Let the people of north end vote on it – why should a guy like Sal be able to force these rules on the residents just for his own political agenda?

    While there may be some streets in the north end that have trash in the roads – mostly near the restaurants,(*edited*) – the majority of the streets do not need a sweeper. I have watched and video taped the street sweeper and the pre and post sweeping pictures of the street are almost mirror images. I expect Howie Carr to be covering this issue soon as I have provided him with strong evidence off the pay offs with the tow companies. I am just waiting for one of these hacks to slip up and .. .

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