Back-Seat Driver

‘That is ugly.’ Street sweeper captured in video spewing leaves back into street

Sacramento's street sweepers patrol city streets most weekdays, sweeping up debris.

Or, they are supposed to.

We shot video on Thursday of a sweeper on 20th Street in midtown Sacramento that was doing the opposite.

The vehicle, one of the city's two new vacuum-style sweepers, was swirling leaves around in its circular broom, then spitting them right back into the gutter in clumps.

We sent the video to city Public Works officials and asked for their take. They responded quickly, saying: Oops. That is not supposed to happen.

"I about fell out of my chair," said Public Works operations supervisor Enrique Hernandez. "That is ugly."

Hernandez surmised that some paper or twigs had gotten caught in the vehicle's conveyor hose, blocking it, causing the vehicle to leave behind an unsightly "sweeper trail" of debris.

The operator is supposed to be looking in the rear view mirror to make sure his machine is operating correctly, Hernandez said. If a machine clogs, the operator should get out, clean it out, and then redo those streets.

Update: Officials said they checked with the operator on Monday morning, and he told them he later checked and discovered that his hopper was full. He dumped the sweeper and returned to re-sweep the blocks where the clog occurred.

We also noticed that the sweeper had to veer in and out of garbage cans in the street, diving in toward the curb when space was available, then angling back into the street to get around the cans.

A city spokeswoman said officials are looking into that issue as well, saying they may do a public education campaign, let people know it is OK to line garbage cans up on the curb, instead of the street, if space is available.

Sweeper controversy

Street sweepers have become controversial in another way in Sacramento's central city recently:

The city has long banned parking on many central city streets for four morning hours each week, on a block-by-block basis, so the city can get in to do street cleaning, including sweeping, green waste and garbage pickup.

But some residents and businesses complain that the ban seems to make no sense: Street sweepers come around only once a month (once every six weeks in neighborhoods outside the central core). So why does the city ban cars from parking on many blocks for one morning every single week?

It leads to unnecessary parking citations and reducing the amount of parking available in an already car-congested area.

City officials are now responding to those complaints.

Beginning in May, the four-hour weekly parking bans on many blocks in the central city will be changed to only one four-hour ban per month. The restricted day will occur during the first week of the month.

Some new blocks that don't currently have restrictions will get them. But, overall, the changes will free up 1,200 more hours of available central city parking, officials said. If you are reading this story online, click here to see a block map and descriptions of the planned changes, or Google "parking plan for central city service."

The city hopes to set up a smartphone alert system later this year to remind residents and visitors when that day arrives. A similar alert system already exists for garbage and recycle collection days.

The city will begin putting up new signs next month designating those blocks. The signs, notably, will say the four-hour no-parking period now is for "city services" on the street, not "street cleaning."

Mulvaney's anger

Patrick Mulvaney, owner of Mulvaney's B&L restaurant on 19th Street, says some of his customers, employees and others who park in his area have been getting tickets even though they put enough money and time on their meters. He said people have told him those meters appear to "zero out" before their time should be done.

Mulvaney complained to the city. His complaint is the same one heard for a few years now from people who have trouble with the meters: People who come downtown to spend their money get hit with a surprise $45 ticket and may choose not to come downtown again.

City officials did agree to remove the meters on that block of 19th, between L and Capitol Avenue, and replace them with parking pay stations, essentially kiosks.

One main effect of that will be to eliminate the stalls on the street, allowing more cars to park on the block.

City officials did not respond to our request to discuss whether there may be a problem with those meters, but they sent an email saying they have been installing pay stations in lieu of the meters, after discussions with Mulvaney.