What took 4 years to do and cost $20K? A trash can in San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO – What took four years to do and cost more than $20,000? A trash can in San Francisco.

That expensive boxy bin was among six trash cans that hit the streets of San Francisco this summer in the city’s long saga in search of the perfect bin. Overflowing trash cans are a common sight in the Northern California city, along with piles of clothes, shoes, used furniture and other items strewn across the sometimes impassable sidewalks.

City officials hired a Bay Area industrial company to tailor the expensive trash can along with two other prototypes that cost $19,000 and $11,000 each. This summer, residents have the opportunity to evaluate them along with three options that were not available to be added to the pilot program after officials faced criticism.

Last month, the city rolled out 15 custom-made trash cans and 11 commercially available bins – each priced between $630 and $2,800 – with QR codes tagged to require residents to fill out a survey. City officials said they plan to pay no more than $3,000 per can.

San Francisco began its quest for the perfect trash can in 2018 when officials decided it was time to replace the more than 3,000 public trash cans that have been on the streets for nearly 20 years.

Officials said the crates now have a hole too large to allow easy rummaging. The crates also have hinges that require constant repair and locks that are prone to breaking. Some even flipped them over, covered them with graffiti or burned them.

The city is so serious about its efforts, it has created interactive maps for residents to follow and experiment with different designs, including Soft Square, the most expensive prototype at $20,900. The box-shaped stainless steel container has openings for the trash and for recycling cans and bottles and includes a foot pedal. The Slim Silhouette, priced at $18,800 per prototype, is made with stainless steel slats that give graffiti artists less space to tag.

Beth Rubenstein, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco Department of Public Works, said that if one of the tailor-made bins is selected, the cost to mass-produce it would be $2,000 to $3,000 each.

“We live in a beautiful city, and we want (the trash can) to be efficient and cost-effective, but it needs to be beautiful,” she said.

But the good looks of shiny new trash cans failed to protect them from vandalism and disrespect. Three weeks after it was published, some were tagged with orange and white graffiti. Others have shown drip stains from careless coffee drinkers or have attracted litter, with people leaving crumbling bathroom cabinets and plastic bags full of empty wine bottles beside them.

Garbage on the streets of the city of San Francisco has been a problem for decades. In 2007, then-Mayor Gavin Newsom got rid of about 1,500 of the city’s 4,500 trash cans because he argued they didn’t help keep the streets clean and were becoming a magnet for more trash. Officials could not say how many containers are currently on the curb, but the city plans to replace at least 3,000.

“The trash can is one of the most fundamental functions of city governance and if cities can’t do something as simple as this, how can they tackle the larger problems of homelessness? safety and poverty?” asked Matt Haney, a former supervisor who lives in the Tenderloin neighborhood and now represents the area on the California Council.

The new trash can will be the latest addition to the city’s arsenal against its filthy streets. In 2014, San Francisco launched a “Pit Stop” program in the Tenderloin neighborhood, the epicenter of drug trafficking and homelessness in the city, setting up portable public restrooms. In 2018, the city set up a six-person “sanitation patrol” amid the need to provide electricity for sidewalk washing.

Haney said that as a supervisor, he reluctantly agreed last year to approve the pilot program despite the high price to avoid delays.

“I think most people, myself included, would say that just replacing the damn cans with the cans that we know work in other cities, just go for it,” he says. speak.

Haney said “the whole trashcan story smells of corruption,” referring to disgraced former Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru, who pleaded guilty in January to federal electricity fraud charges. Nuru has awarded a contract to maintain San Francisco trash cans to a company owned by a relative of a developer who has pleaded guilty to conspiracy and is cooperating with federal authorities in a lawsuit against Nuru. .

Besides corruption, the city has long been joked about how long it takes to complete public works projects of all kinds.

A bus rapid transit system along Van Ness Avenue, one of the city’s main thoroughfares, finally opened this year after 27 years of construction. Construction of a new subway line connecting Chinatown with other parts of the city started in 2010 four years behind schedule. In 2017, the city completed the Transbay Transit Center just a year late, but the $2 billion terminal abruptly closed six weeks later after crews discovered two cracked steel beams.

Ultimately, what trash the city collects will depend on feedback from sanitation workers and surveys completed by the end of September, Rubenstein said. The new cans are not expected to hit the streets until the end of 2023.

Diane Torkelson, who often picks up trash in the Inner Richmond neighborhood with other volunteers, recently walked 5 miles (8 km) with dozens of other civic-minded San Franciscans to look at three of the bin.

Two prototypes were full when the team arrived for inspection, she said.

“If the trash can is full, it doesn’t help no matter how well designed it is,” she said.

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