Commentary: The Theatre of the Absurd


The-ClawWhen I first moved to Davis, I had no car, so I went everywhere by bike. I looked forward to biking in Davis. Growing up in San Luis Obispo, I used to bike to school, as well, all through college. However, biking in San Luis Obispo was a grueling experience. As I am fond to point out, I had to bike uphill both ways (no joke there).

While Davis has the reputation of being a bike friendly town, I was perplexed by the fact that one could not really bike through town on Fifth Street. I was more perplexed when I encountered frequent blockages of the bike lanes, especially on Arlington Blvd., by greenwaste.

One day after having to veer around a big pile into the traffic lane, I decided to call the city to complain about the debris in the bike lane. I was told that people were allowed to dump their greenwaste on the side of the road whether it blocked the bike lane or not.

The first efforts, that I recall, at containerization involved a pilot project on a few streets – a project that was quickly discontinued. People apparently liked being able to throw their yard waste in the streets. I had grown up in a community that has containerized its yard waste for decades.

Still the level of  absurdity on Tuesday blew me away. For some, it appears, the act of dumping their greenwaste in the streets was the Davis Way. One person took pride in the fact that the claw was apparently developed in Davis by a Davis resident.

One lady said her family refers to the claw as “Snuffleupagus,” and Mayor Dan Wolk told the council and members of the public, “I grew up in this community, I love the claw.”

Really? People have an emotional attachment to “the claw”?

Darell Dickey’s thoughts mirror my own. He said, “Before moving here, honestly I had never seen greenwaste piled in the street and the first question I had for my real estate agent was [whether] this was like a once in a year thing, we don’t throw trash in the street… He said, no this is one of the great things about Davis, we pile our stuff in the street. I was shocked.”

Mr. Dickey told the council that he still uses a cart. “I have to then dump the thing in the street which is an extra step… I see my neighbors doing the same thing too, in fact that ones that wish to continue dumping in the street, they fill a container first and then they dump it in the street.”

I understand that Davis has a lot of trees, but so do other communities that containerize. Certainly the city of Sacramento has trees, as does Woodland. As Mark Murray put it on Tuesday, Sacramento came up with a good compromise but the Davis staff has come up with an even better compromise.

“I frankly think your staff has come up with an even better compromise of keeping the claw, keeping putting yard waste in the street once a month,” he said. “With the legislation being passed, there isn’t going to be any yard waste going to landfill by the commercial sector, by the lawn and garden services… because we don’t want that organic material going to landfill.”

That’s the point that I think that gets missed. Davis has to deal with storm water discharge requirements which are imperiled by the weekly presence of green waste material in the streets that end up in the storm drains, as the claw invariably missed portions of the debris.

The issue that Mr. Dickey pointed out on the Vanguard is that he does not “dislike the claw. In fact, I can think of all manner of uses for that device… and on-call pickups, and quickly moving wayward piles out of our travel lanes are a couple of them. The claw is great. What I am passionately against is using our streets for storing endless piles of refuse. It may confuse some to realize that I’m pro-claw, and anti-pile.”

For me I neither like nor dislike “the claw.” In fact, I never gave a second thought to the claw until Tuesday night. Apparently I’m missing the ball. The claw is apparently an iconic image in Davis, part of our identity, that must be protected at all costs.

Save the claw.

I can see the campaign now. The hundreds of people signing petitions, putting the matter to the ballot, flooding city hall.

Okay, it was just six people at city hall on Tuesday who spoke against the ordinance. But even those who believe this was a good compromise had to proclaim their love for the claw.

It just seemed absurd. We face critical issues in Davis – a still potent fiscal crisis, crumbling roads, flagging revenue, a tragic incident. What got people to city hall on Tuesday? The claw.

For me the claw is a tool. It probably is a useful tool, but throwing greenwaste in the street is unsightly, it’s messy, and it is harmful to the environment.

Councilmember Lucas Frerichs noted that we have been talking about this for a long time and the proposal has evolved over time. “Early on it was the discussion about removing the claw altogether and that clearly was unacceptable to the community,” he said. “I appreciate that so we made adjustments to the proposal.”

Mr. Frerichs noted the importance of reducing waste, and improved storm water qualities were important components about this. He said, “I think the overall proposal represents a compromise ‒ it’s sort of the Goldielocks getting the porridge not too hot, not too cold, getting it just right.”

For me, we haven’t gone nearly far enough. The inability to throw greenwaste on the street is not quite the emergency that some people would have it. Hopefully this is just the first step towards sanity, but after hearing about the love for the claw on Tuesday night, I have my doubts.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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56 thoughts on “Commentary: The Theatre of the Absurd”

  1. hpierce

    You ignore an “inconvenient truth”.  Many “yard maintenance” firms, paying their employees probably less than, or equal to, minimum wage, probably no benefits, ‘haul’ the yard waste “off-site” (off their client’s property), then instead of paying ‘tipping fees’ at the landfill (so much for ‘diversion’), or taking the yard waste to a recycling/composting facility, dump it on a street (such as Anderson, N of Alvarado, where no houses ‘front’ the street).

    The new ordinance does not address these folk.  Rest assured, they will be doing more business in Davis, as folk who cannot store or place their yard waste in the containers seek their services.  The yard waste will not be going to a composting/recycling facility.  Even if enforcement stops them from dumping it on Davis streets (unlikely we’d have that enforcement), it will be dumped on the sides of County roads.

    This is NOT speculation.  The City has been aware of this for years, but was never in a position to catch the miscreants.

    1. Alan Miller

      Similar to requiring appliances be dumped at the dump but charging, and then we (surprise!) find fridges dumped along county roads.

      This is fixable, how?

    2. darelldd

      As you point out, this is happening NOW with 100% loose waste service. It is likely to continue. We can’t fix all illegal activity with a move to containerization.

      What IS speculation on your part is that the problem will get worse. You tend to expect rock-solid evidence for the claims of other commenters, so I wonder if you have the evidence for this?

      1. hpierce

        Yes.  But I choose not to share that evidence, at his time, in this forum. Could adversely affect some investigations.

        BTW, where is your evidence of “most bike lanes in Davis being less than 8 feet wide”?

        1. darelldd

          I’m going to have to remember that one.

          “I’m choosing not to share that evidence.”


          “I insist on seeing YOUR evidence.”

          Right. So… I choose not to play that game. Thanks.

          Sounds serious if we have some investigations in progress.

    1. hpierce

      As I recall, the father of one of the principals of DWR was a mechanical engineer (and professor @ UCD), and came up with the concept of the “claw”, and invented (and held patents for) many of the key components.  Both of the original principals of DWR ran the first successful paper and aluminum can recycling program in Davis (sort of in Davis), behind the old Greyhound bus stop (trailer), just south of First Street, am thinking between D & C.  And if you didn’t drop stuff off there, in my opinion, you’re a “newbie”, and so don’t play the ‘long-time resident’ card.  Won’t wash, with me, anyway.

      1. Frankly

        Came here in 1974.  Wife was born here in 1962 (even though she looks like it was 1977).

        You may go back a bit farther than that, but not enough to brag about!  😉

        1. hpierce

          You DID get my ‘main’ point, Frankly!  And, am sure you win points with your spouse, if she reads your post!

          Actually, 1974 was about the time I was referring to (didn’t get off campus much the first year or so).

          How do you do the emoticon?

    2. darelldd

      >> I love the claw.

      I’m all but certain that we could retain the claw tractors and use them in the Picnic Day parade with the other relic tractors from our history.

      Or were you looking for a non-traditional marriage sort of dispensation?

  2. ryankelly

    The container in your picture above is incorrectly placed. It is not supposed to be placed in the gutter.  It is supposed to be placed on the asphalt.   Now imagine a wall of containers placed in the bike path  in addition to debris during some months of the year.   What will keep people from placing debris for a month while waiting for the pick up.  Is it really any better?

    1. Alan Pryor

      What will keep people from placing debris for a month while waiting for the pick up.

      The ordinance restricts waste on the streets until 5 days before pickup during the non-seasonal , 1/mo pickups. During 1/wk seasonal pickups, you can put it out anythime as it will be picked up within 7 days.


      1. ryankelly

        And how are they going to enforce that?  My guess is that people will put stuff on the street that doesn’t fit into the bin regardless of timing and it will sit there until it is picked up.  This really doesn’t change a thing.  Piles will still be on the street.

    2. jrberg

      Incorrect.  Correct placement of the containers is with wheels against the curb.  As for yard waste in the street for a month, the answer is education and PD code enforcement.

    3. darelldd

      >> The container in your picture above is incorrectly placed. It is not supposed to be placed in the gutter.  It is supposed to be placed on the asphalt.

      What is the source of your information? And the source of the confidence needed to make this claim publicly?

      If you are interested in what our municipal code has to say about it, I am happy to do the research and supply the correct information.

      Davis Municipal code 32.01.050  Placement of waste containers.

      (a)    Individually serviced residences. Containers of garbage waste and household waste in ninety to one hundred gallon carts from individually serviced residences shall be placed in the street gutter immediately adjacent to the curb, immediately adjacent to occupants property, but in no event on the sidewalk.

      >> Now imagine a wall of containers placed in the bike path  in addition to debris during some months of the year.

      We generally do not currently have a problem with a “wall of containers” illegally placed in the bike lanes, nor would I expect there to be a wall of containers placed there when we add the green bin. The new ordinance will have the same placement wording as the existing ordinance, and it will include all bins. We are just adding one more bin to the line of bins in the gutter. The new bin will not stick into the bike lane any more than the existing bins do today. It would be great if you could start to educate your neighbors about correct placement of the bins.

      If you are using your inaccurate guess of the required placement of carts as a reason to oppose containerization (thanks for your concern about cyclists, by the way) then you’ll have to take another stab at a relevant reason to oppose them. The carts are to be placed in the gutter against the curb. Cyclists don’t generally ride in the gutter against the curb. Containers are an obvious, finite dimension, and are easy to see and avoid. Loose piles… quite the opposite.

      >> What will keep people from placing debris for a month while waiting for the pick up.

      PD code enforcement department. And, well… me.

      1. hpierce

        Perhaps you should have cut some slack, in your ‘tone’ at least, Darrell.  You are absolutely correct as to ‘bins’.  Ryan was correct as to “piles”.  Funny thing though… I’d advocate for changing the ordinance on ‘piles’, as they can intercept and absorb ‘first flush’ pollutants from the street.  Yeah, some vegetative matter might end up in the storm drains, but that is better for the downstream environment/water quality than the petrochemicals, other pollutants that come off the streets in a rain event.  Yet, the ‘environmental regulators’ would rather not have any vegetative material go into storm drains, as a “pollutant”, which will increase the flow of methyl-ethyl bad stuff going into the storm drains.  Nice.

        1. darelldd

          >> Perhaps you should have cut some slack, in your ‘tone’ at least, Darrell.

          Yes, I suppose. Coming from somebody who consistently insists on complete facts and references from those who make any claim of knowledge, I thought that you – of all people – would have been impressed with how that all went down. When I see posts from you like this:

          Please document your assertion….you made an absolute statement.


          I challenge you on that.  You utter an untruth.

          I don’t feel like you’re looking for a pleasant, feel-good answer. Clearly I’m trying to please you, but am missing the target. No love for actually knowing what I’m talking about? Dang.

          Interesting (if a bit confusing) segue into talking about piles against the curb when we were talking about the terror of a wall of bins. I’ll support any effort you wish to make to shove piles into the gutter against the curb.

        2. hpierce

          Yet, Darrell, you avoid any documentation of your assertion that most bike lanes in Davis are less than 8 feet wide.  Why should I document anything, when you fail the same test?

        3. darelldd

          hpierce – Just so I understand….

          You say that I should have cut some slack (in my tone) for information that was presented as fact, was absolutely wrong AND unsupported? Because… cutting slack in that case is what you would do? I fully admit that *I* do not deal well with that sort of stuff, so yeah… I’m sure my tone reflected that displeasure. Much like it is doing here.

          Why are you taking the tone of my post to task instead of the content of post that conjured up an ordinance in order to make an inappropriate and illogical point? Isn’t that the very thing that you fight against constantly? I guess that’s my biggest confusion. It certainly doesn’t inspire me to respond to future requests (demands?) for supporting documentation.

          >> Why should I document anything, when you fail the same test?

          Because it is inappropriate of you to hold others to a higher standard than you hold yourself.

          You have implied several times that a statement of fact is not valid without supporting evidence. And when I DO supply this wonderful documentation you claim is so important, you still give no credit. In fact you seem to be as supportive of the post that contained no fact OR documentation. Did I fail your test here?

          Deep, calming breath…. I will endeavor to work on my tone. A warmer and fuzzier Darell is definitely easier to take. Not as much fun sometimes, but definitely easier.

          In the last conversation where I said that most of our bike lanes are not 8′ wide,  I responded there (yesterday) that all I should honestly claim is that there are a huge number of bike lanes in Davis that are narrower than 8′. I have not measured every bit of bike lane in Davis, and I should not have claimed that *most* are narrower. I do know that most that *I* have measured are narrower. But then I tend to find those on purpose.  I’m not sure that anybody in the city knows how many lanes of what width we have. The proof that we have plenty of bike lanes narrower than 8′ is out there for everybody to see, however. It seemed that you were implying (without documentation!) that all of our bike lanes were 8′ wide. I may have been mistaken in that regard. And for that I apologize.

          That’s about the best I can do with tone at this late hour.



  3. TrueBlueDevil

    The Claw really saves us from more Global Warming and toxic plastic bins. They take time, chemicals, and horrible energy to produce, and then when they need replacing every 5 -8 years, they take up landfill space. They also are Visual Pollution, blocking our view and taking up critical space next to our Prius Case (known elsewhere as a garage).

    Long live The Claw. And Leaf Blowers.

    1. hpierce

      Hmmm… what size cart do we need to recycle the bins, when their useful life has ended?  [tongue firmly in cheek]  I’m convinced that the garbage/recycling/green waste bins will indeed be recycled, but will require energy from some source to do that.  That energy may need to be produced from sources that emit greenhouse gases.

    2. Alan Pryor

      Re: Throwing old bins in the landfill – The bins are hard plastic and can be recycled. The bins and tops are also interchangeable between same size containers. So some bin parts can be reused  and the damaged portions can be recycled. No bins or parts end up in the landfill.

      Re: Visual Pollution – Do you honestly think piles of green waste strewn on the street and blowing every which way is less visually obstrusive that the green waste bins. If you really believe that then I gather you would be for throwing our trash and recycleables into separate piles on ths street instead of using containers for them.

      1. Frankly

        Do you honestly think piles of green waste strewn on the street and blowing every which way is less visually obstrusive that the green waste bins.

        First… green stuff and their waste products where here long before we paved over the area with concrete and oil tar and gravel.

        And related to that, I actually do like seeing piles of green waste where green waste should be naturally occurring.  I definitely like it better than rows and rows of ugly 100 gallon bins made out of petroleum products… either on the street or in my back yard.

        1. Alan Pryor

          First… green stuff and their waste products where here long before we paved over the area with concrete and oil tar and gravel.

          So what?…so were horses and buggies! Times change

          I actually do like seeing piles of green waste where green waste should be naturally occurring.

          So piles of green waste artificially piled on the man-made paved streets or concrete are naturally occurring?…Davis G’s title for this article was spot truly is “The Theatre of the Absurd”




        2. darelldd

          >> First… green stuff and their waste products where here long before we paved over the area with concrete and oil tar and gravel.

          Yes. Things are a bit different today, you are correct. Bicycles were here before cars. The university was here before my neighborhood. Water used to be unmetered. Garbage was burned in the yard. Yet… here we are today, with today’s realities that we must deal with. And in the grand scheme of things – this one isn’t too hard.

          >> And related to that, I actually do like seeing piles of green waste where green waste should be naturally occurring.

          You may have chosen the wrong sort of living environment. Like most towns in America today, this is an urban setting. We can no longer dump our sewer in the river, and we can no longer pile our crap in the public right of way. Heck – we don’t even get to have duals out on Main Street in front of the saloon! Fortunately for you, there are still places in the world where that is acceptable. But not so much here any longer.

          This hand-wringing about durable goods (the bins) made of petroleum products is perplexing. I have a garbage bin that was made of petroleum products once. About 18 years ago. What is it that your car burns every day that you drive it? And when you change the crankcase oil? Is that not of bigger concern? Can I assume that you’re working to fix that problem with even more effort than fending off the bins? Single-use items like gasoline are a terrible waste of our petroleum resources. Durable goods? Quite the opposite.

        3. Tia Will


          First… green stuff and their waste products where here long before we paved over the area with concrete and oil tar and gravel.”

          You may be on to something. I would much prefer not to have the area covered with concrete, oil tar and gravel. Let’s truly go back to the native state. That is something I would be happy to work towards gradually.

        1. darelldd

          >> and then when they need replacing every 5 -8 years, they take up landfill space

          @ hpierce – why do you not require documentation of THIS assertion? I mean this “absolute statement.”

    3. tribeUSA

      TBD–yes, I like a town with talons, or a big Claw in the case of Davis.

      But 100% disagreement on the incessant loud farting whine and blowing back and forth between neighboring properties of pollen and dust clouds (to deposit thru cracked car and residence windows and in lungs) by leafblowers.

      I say we keep the claw and use it to search out, mangle, and destroy every leafblower in town.

  4. Davis Progressive

    “Long live The Claw. And Leaf Blowers.”

    leaf blowers i think have been linked to an increased homicide rate and if they haven’t, they should have.

  5. KevinLee

    Does anyone know how many or what percentage of cities in California allow green waste to be put out on the streets?

    Is the “Claw” or something similar used in other California cities?


    1. Alan Pryor

      After Davis begins phasing out the claw, only San Jose and Modesto (in the ENTIRE state) still rely completely on their claws to pick up loose green waste.

        1. Alan Pryor

          Frankly – Firstly, I was just responding to Kevin Lee’s question. But if the claw is so dear to you, you can always move to Modesto.

          Secondly – There are some things that every other community does for the common good that actually make sense. Like trash and recyclable collection, sewage treatment plants, stop signs and street lights, and on and on…or all you against all of those things also just because every other community does them too?

        2. Frankly

          Why move to Modesto when we already have the claw?  Keep the claw in Davis where we are exceptional and different.  If you like green plastic waste containers, you have more options for moving to places that have them.

    2. darelldd

      Hi Kevin!

      Before the thread derailment, Alan answered your question. I can add a tiny bit more:

      There are apparently just two cities outside of Davis that rely completely on loose green waste pickup.

      A “claw” type of device (often the exact product) is used in several other CA cities as an occasional (meaning not every week) pickup service.

      1. Frankly

        Houston seems more progressive than Davis on this.

        They alternate every other month picking up curbside green waste and curbside junk waste.

        Residents may dispose of their Tree Waste and Junk Waste at their curbside. Tree Waste is collected during ODD numbered months and Junk Waste is collected during EVEN numbered months. This method of collecting large waste comes with the benefits of diverting materials that can be recycled from landfills, saving landfill space and valuable tax dollars.

        No more than 8 cubic yards (about the size of a minivan) of Junk Waste or Tree Waste may be placed at the curb for collection.

        Residents who wish to dispose of Tree Waste or Junk Waste before their scheduled once-per-month collection may use one of six Neighborhood Depository/Recycling Centers. Visit the Neighborhood Depository/Recycling Center web page here for more information or call 3-1-1.

        Of course Houstonians also have big yards where they can store mega-sized cans made out of petroleum products.

        And this is really a crack up.  It can happen to us too if Michelle Millet gets her way.

  6. TrueBlueDevil

    If they do have green waste bins, I think they should be CLEAR so we can see that there is no garbage in them… and we can see what neighbors cans we can borrow for excess greenage. Also, to prevent graffiti.


  7. darelldd

    >> But even those who believe this was a good compromise had to proclaim their love for the claw.

    I’m a wee bit unclear if this comment was pointed at me after my proclamation of being “pro-claw and anti-pile.” For the record, I probably should have stated things differently in the comment I made on the earlier article. But make no mistake – I have never said nor implied that I “love” the claw. That I have any emotion attached to it at whatsoever. Please… no.

    Truth be told, I’m as indifferent about it as you are. I don’t gather the kids, and pop popcorn to sit out and watch it come by. I haven’t named it, nor do I write poetry about it. In fact, I dislike the mornings when it comes rumbling through to wake me up and scratching up the street. It comes. It does its job just like the garbage truck and the street sweeper, and it moves on. The point I meant to make, and that I made poorly is that I’m not *against* the claw. I’m for it in the same way that I’m for the garbage trucks and the street sweeper. It is a tool that is well-suited for the job it has been designed for. And as things stand today, it is the only way I can have my green waste hauled away under the city program that I am charged for. It is not a tool that I love and wish to protect in any way.

    Anyway, I enjoyed the article David. And while I’m anti-inappropriate implication, I’m still pro-David.  🙂

    Oh. And I don’t think you’ll find me having ever said that I believe this is a good compromise. Even though Dave Ryan reported that in yesterday’s Enterprise article.

  8. PhilColeman

    One more time. Let’s try to make everybody in Davis happy.

    I had no idea that so many folks had that much affection for the DWS claw and a pile of clippings. We all embrace the concept that as long as it does not involve children–and it is consensual–everyone’s love life is their own and to be respected. So, anybody who takes the Claw out for dinner, drinks, and dancing is OK. And if somebody wants to sleep with a pile of grass cuttings, that’s fine as well. What happens in Davis stays in Davis. That problem solved.

    The Claw gets so much love, and the MRAP is scorned. What to do? The MRAP by all accounts is vastly underutilized. It just sits there 99% of the time no matter who has it or where it is parked. Try this: We configure a Claw vehicle to double as a MRAP. Put armor plate on it and slap a turret on top.  When it is waiting for a SWAT call-out, the MRAP/CLAW can scoop up those beloved grass cuttings on a weekly basis. Multi-tasking results in lower operating costs and reduced taxes.

    A possible bonus would be, when the bad guy sees the MRAP/CLAW roll up, he’ll probably surrender immediately upon seeing those very intimidating claw thingies sticking out.  Less police overtime, lower city budget. Second problem solved.

    Then, we have those disgusting folks (anybody who does live in Davis) throwing their trash on our streets, and we have to pick it up. A whole new meaning to outsiders dumping, when before we just heard about this done in the medical field. The solution here is to install cameras on top of the new high-intensity street lights that our city fathers had the foresight to put in for us. Outsiders dumping on our streets are instantly detected, day or night, and recorded. And should any police officer on patrol do something we don’t like, we’ll nail him as well. Two problems solved.

    You’re welcome. Is everybody happy now?



    1. jrberg

      Phil, once again you have cut through all the chaff to the heart of the solution to the problem…whatever that means.  I will be calling on your expertise to solve the downtown parking situation with similar incisive thought.  But no, we can’t just shred the overtime violators’ vehicles and recycle the metal to recover the parking enforcement costs….  But a boy can dream.

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