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  Media Coverage
  Richmond to Rehire Full-Time Cleanup Crew
July 29, 2004


For months, Eunice Booker has watched the garbage and debris pile up in the alleyway next to her pink Iron Triangle home.

After seeing poster-size photos of the view from her bedroom and hearing from other exasperated residents, the Richmond City Council unanimously decided Tuesday night to rehire six full-time maintenance workers.

The Richmond Redevelopment Agency is footing the $250,000 bill. However, it can be spent only to clean up debris in redevelopment areas.

The council also approved Councilman Jim Rogers' motion to pursue an additional $400,000 for the future.

"The Redevelopment Agency is going out for a bond in August, and if we net enough there could be some money there, but again, it could only be used in redevelopment areas," said Steve Duran, director of community and economic development.

Neighborhood council representatives urged the city to pursue corporate sponsors to fund cleanups in the remaining areas of the city.

Local community activists and Service Employees International Union Local 790 members dragged in oversize garbage bags with pictures of various parts of town attached to each.

"I don't want to say we told you so, but we told you so," said Larry Hendel, staff director for SEIU, which represents maintenance workers recently laid off in budget cutbacks.

"We used to have 16 people in five crews whose sole job was to go around town and pick up garbage."

In the past, much of this work was performed by temporary workers on six-month stints, a practice that required continuous training of new workers.

Police Chief Charles Bennett, whose department oversees code enforcement issues, persuaded the council to hire only permanent, full-time workers.

Police believe much of the debris comes from professional haulers who pick up loads from around the county, charge customers the landfill fee, then unload on the streets of Richmond.

The council discussed installing surveillance cameras, and requiring haulers to obtain licenses. But the city's contract with refuse disposal provider Republic Services may give that company the sole right to do licensed hauling.

Property owners who allow debris to accumulate on their land can be cited and hit with exponentially increasing fines, which at least in theory makes blight abatement a self-supporting program. But the city has been hamstrung by an inadequate computer accounting system that makes it difficult to track the money.

Councilman Tom Butt said that $600,000 earmarked for code enforcement apparently cannot be tracked.

"Dumping has always been bad in Richmond," he said. "The people who say, 'There ought to be a law' may not realize there already is a law for most of these things."

The tangle outside Eunice Booker's home includes broken appliances, junked furniture and wet garbage. She says rodents run wild in the mess. A group of volunteers began to haul through the debris and found innumerable syringes, she said.