“It’s been since January that the trash hasn’t been picked up,” says Geovanni Zamudio, a 35-year-old high school teacher in Tijuana. “Garbage collectors usually come on Wednesdays where I live in Porticos de la Mesa, in the skirts of Cerro Colorado. For now, trash just keeps piling up in the streets.”
The word “dirty” doesn’t adequately describe how filthy Tijuana can get. Garbage collection has been a problem in the city for decades. In many neighborhoods, dumpster trucks only go by once a week. Downtown, Zona Rió (the business district) and some of the main roads are the only places where garbage gets collected every day. Despite this, it is a common sight to see rats scurrying through streets and alleys.
“Garbage collection has been a very old problem in this city,” Carlos Férnandez, another high school teacher, comments. “It especially hurts the low-income neighborhoods. The nicer neighborhoods that can afford it hire a private service [for garbage collection]. They have taken up to three weeks to pick up the garbage by where I live in El Lago, but it normally should be at least once a week. Ahorita es mucho cochinero [It’s a huge mess right now].”
Both Geovanni and Carlos live near el Cerro Colorado, neighborhoods with low- to middle-income housing southeast of downtown.
“It was 15 days or more, but finally they picked up the garbage yesterday [February 15th],” comments Germán Alcázar, a 28-year-old brewer. “Garbage pick-up is usually on Tuesdays, but it is rarely consistent. Sometimes it’s on Wednesdays, or maybe on Thursdays. Sometimes in the mornings or sometimes at night. You never know. Lately they haven’t come at all.
"Neighbors take out the garbage in the mornings and bring it back inside when they see that the dumpster truck never came. In my case, I don’t leave my garbage can outside because someone will steal it, so I simply leave bags in the street. With time, I see that vandals go through my garbage and pick it apart. Sometimes they take all of the garbage, then they just dump it on a hill nearby.”
Villa Fontana IV, where Alcázar lives, is east of the city and it is also a low- to mid-income neighborhood. Hills filled with garbage in low-income neighborhoods are a common sight.
“They haven’t picked up the garbage in more than two weeks,” comments student Melina Habbaba. “Our garbage container is overflowing and more trash just keeps getting piled up.”
Habbaba lives in a middle-income private residential neighborhood named Jardin Veranda between Soler and Playas de Tijuana. The dumpster situated near the entrance where the security booth is located overflows with trash.
“It looks like they emptied some of the garbage and dumped it on the hill,” says Habbaba.
Tijuanenses have said inconsistent garbage pick-up coincided with the new mayor coming into office on November 30th of last year.
“The citizens’ concerns and anger are valid,” said mayor Juan Manuel “El Patas (the Feet)” Gastelum at a press conference on February 9th. “I’m not here to cry about it; I’m here to work.”
The mayor also explained that Tijuana will have to do without garbage collection for more than a month, since the issue cannot be resolved in a day. He blamed the previous administration for leaving dumpster trucks in poor condition and claimed only 30 out of 130 trucks were operable. He invited citizens to bring their garbage to city hall, where they placed extra dumpsters. This resulted in a protest on Saturday, February 11th, with dozens of citizens throwing their waste at city hall’s front doors. City workers promptly cleaned up.
Gastelum, who sports a mullet haircut and a rancher’s mustache, faces other issues. Protests over gasoline prices and higher transportation costs have resulted in the occasional blockage of the San Ysidro border crossing (mostly on Sundays). There’s been a spike in violent robberies, and 103 homicides were reported in January.
A member of Gastelum's cabinet, Luis Torres Santillán, was arrested in San Diego on December 16th on money-laundering charges. And the governor of the state and fellow political party member, Francisco “Kiko” Vega, is being investigated for enrichment via public funds as well as dealing with massive protests demanding his resignation in Mexicali, the capital city of the state of Baja.