An avalanche of trash and pollutants is threatening San Diego streets and watersheds during the waning days of Mayor Kevin Faulconer's tenure for reasons including chronic street sweeping negligence, per a report by interim city auditor Kyle Elser.
"Route priorities and sweeping frequencies have not been updated in approximately five years," says a performance audit of the city's Transportation and Stormwater Department's Street Sweeping Section, released September 22.
"Many routes' debris levels do not correlate with their respective priority levels. In fact, the priority level is often opposite what it should be," the document says.
"We found that sweeping in Los Peñasquitos and Tijuana River watershed areas is not prioritized," according to the report.
"Comparing debris with route priorities in these two watershed areas, many routes with high debris are designated as low priority."
"Specifically, of the 86 routes with high debris in our sample, 11 of 17 of Los Peñasquitos routes are designated as low priority "
Penasquitos and Tijuana River areas shortchanged
"Two of three of Tijuana River's high debris routes are also designated as low priority. Because most of these routes are designated as low priority, they also have lower planned sweeping frequencies."
Much of the problem was laid by auditors to a host of outdated management metrics and practices, including manual data-keeping, that the city has been slow to change, the report says.
"We found that some routes with relatively high amounts of debris are swept less frequently than optimal, while at the same time, other routes with relatively low amounts of debris are swept at a higher than optimal frequency. This likely reduces the total amount of sweeping street debris collected," according to the audit.
"Although routes changes have been made over time, likely as a result of staff observations and community input, they have not been adjusted using data that will allow for a global analysis."
"The limited ability to make timely adjustments affects Street Sweeping's potential to reduce the maximum amount pollutants possible from entering San Diego's waterways, thus increasing potential harm to wildlife, native vegetation, as well as recreation areas,” auditors warned.
"Street Sweeping's current key performance indicator—annual miles swept—does not reflect the effectiveness at achieving its purpose, removing debris and sediment from City streets."
"Our observations show that routes vary in miles swept and that the number of miles swept does not necessarily correlate with the amount of debris collected," per the document.
"Additionally, Street Sweeping has kept the same target number of annual miles swept, even though this goal has not been met in the past four fiscal years."
The audit recommends increasing the number of street sweeping routes which have signs advising motorists that their cars will be ticketed if parked on city streets during specified towing hours, a practice previously resisted by management.
"Street Sweeping states that adding posted routes requires budget approval to cover initial first-year costs that involves staff working with other departments, filling new parking enforcement staff positions, getting new equipment, posting of the new signs (materials and labor), and initial public outreach and flyering."
A September 11 memo to Elser from Transportation & Stormwater director Kris McFadden did not dispute the audit's findings, but suggested changes to past practices may be costly. "Future budget requests will be made accordingly and will compete with future General Fund priorities."