I have to admit I have never really understood Davis’ fixation with dumping yard waste loose in the street. I will always remember as a graduate student at UC Davis in the late 1990s, biking home from class one day and encountering a big pile of yard waste in front of me and traffic to my left – I thought it was a mistake, I thought it was someone making a stupid lazy decision.
When I called the city to complain about the obstruction in the bike lane, I was told they are allowed to do that. I was incredulous. Who would allow people to dump stuff in the bike lane – in bike friendly Davis of all places? Little did I know at that time how pervasive the issue would be or how long I would be forced to grapple with it.
In April 2015, almost four years ago, the city passed their first reading of the new organics program that would go into effect in mid-2016. The comments by the public underscore the nature of this discussion.
Mark Murray, for example, said that when Sacramento put forward a containerized proposal, he was opposed to it. He said, “I love the claw.” He said 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.”
On the other hand, Darrell Dickey noted – as I have numerous times, “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.”
On the council, then-Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis noted that the ordinance addressed the issue “of allowing greenwaste to be dumped in the bike lanes at all anywhere in the city.”
Mayor Dan Wolk added, “I do think that this is a good compromise proposal between containerizing the greenwaste and also preserving the claw. I grew up in this community, I love the claw.”
So where does this put us now almost four years later? About the same place we were.
For me, there are two critical reasons not to go loose in the street, even though I think Don Shor raises an important point: “We want to encourage people to garden, to grow their own fruit and vegetables and share them with their friends and neighbors and with the Yolo Food Bank. We should not take away a popular and successful program that encourages homeowners to grow trees and care for them properly, thereby making that more difficult.”
However, bikes and environment are of crucial concern. It is interesting to note that “there is little data available on reported incidents between bicycles and yard material piles.”
The BTSSC (Bicycling, Transportation and Street Safety Commission) naturally is concerned with “the safety hazard potentials that yard material piles can cause.”
“Public comment on the item included the description of multiple cycling accidents caused by the yard material piles, and the lasting impact of those accidents on the riders,” the staff report notes in summarizing the discussion from January 10. “When discussing the lack of accident reports around the yard material piles in the streets, there was an agreement on the lack of a good way to report, or to even keep track of pile and bicycle collisions.”
In my view here, looking strictly at “accidents” between bikes and piles misses a point – the problem with piles are “encounters,” not necessarily actual collisions. Moreover, most often the nature of the encounter is not a full-on collision that results in serious injury but rather a protruding stick that causes a scratch (sometimes not noticeable immediately) that would never be reported because there would be no point.
Moreover, it is the need to take evasive action, and the actions taken by some less responsible riders of veering into the street cause hazards between bike and car that are largely not quantifiable.
A final point on this, however, is one of perception rather than necessarily hazard or substance – how do you have a bike-friendly community that allows for dangerous or potentially dangerous yard material to be dumped in or near bicycle traffic?
The other issue is one of environment. The URAC (Utility Rate Advisory Committee) points out that there are at least two environmental impacts: “the LITS (loose in the street) program vehicles cause GHG emissions as well as wear and tear on our streets.”
While that might be unavoidable, the “debris left in the streets causes pollution of our groundwater.”
That was after all a key reason for the change in 2015.
An April 2007 staff report noted, “The Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB) staff, in review of the City’s Storm Water Management Plan submitted March 2003, had found the current green waste management program to be inadequate. RWQCB staff contends that loose green waste in the street degrades storm water quality and emphasizes that green waste containerization or its equivalent is needed.
“The current collection method of collecting green waste loose in the street poses safety concerns for bicycle riders,” staff reported in 2007. “The conflict between piles of green waste and bicyclists has been recognized over the years and appears in the City of Davis Bicycle Plan as an issue needing improvement.”
Back in 2014, Public Works Director Bob Clarke explained that the city currently operates under a state-wide general storm water quality permit and the language of the permit requires best management practices. He stated that “there are a number of people in the regulatory world who don’t believe that loose pick-up of green waste is the best management practice.”
For their part, the URAC believes that there are “many combinations of alternatives that could be considered in place of LITS.”
They state: “We are confident these and other creative solutions can work effectively to obviate the need for LITS. In consequence, we encourage the City Council to allow URAC, other commissions (NRC, Tree Commission) and staff to investigate other options to LITS over the next 6-8 months.”
While I still think it is silly that Davis cannot figure this out, if URAC thinks they can come up with some alternative, I suppose we should hear them out.
—David M. Greenwald reporting