Litter and trash in South and Southeast Queens has been compared to the weather — many complain but nobody does anything about it.
But government and civic officials are calling a program introduced on Monday a way to manage the problem on a borough-wide basis rather that just as an issue in isolated, individual neighborhoods.
Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) introduced the city’s effort, tabbed the Clean Streets, Safe Neighborhoods, Strong Communities initiative, on the commercial strip just north of the intersection of 140th Avenue and Guy R. Brewer Boulevard.
He said newly introduced laws and the combined efforts of multiple city agencies, civic groups, businesses and public-private partnerships can succeed where past efforts responding to individual neighborhoods and streets have failed.
Wills gave a brief outline of proposed changes to existing sanitation codes that would increase the fines for those caught engaged in illegal dumping, and those who use city street wastebaskets to dispose of their household or commercial garbage.
Another tweak would eliminate the issuance of tickets for residential properties on Sundays.
Wills said he has been focused on troubles in the areas represented by community boards 9, 10, 12 and 13, and he was joined Monday by Deputy Borough President Leroy Comrie of St. Albans, Councilman Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans), CB 10 Chairwoman Betty Braton, and District Manager Yvonne Reddick and Sanitation Committee Chairwoman Aiysha Johnson of CB 12.
But he also said the measures address citywide problems.
The bill increasing fines for improper use of city wastebaskets, for example, is co-sponsored by Council members Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria), Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton), Julissa Ferreras (D-Elmhurst) and Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park).
Miller, a co-sponsor of the bill increasing fines for dumping, praised the Department of Sanitation, and said the city is planning to fund DSNY’s efforts to the tune of $1.5 billion in the coming fiscal year to keep all neighborhoods clean.
“But money alone isn’t going to solve the problem,” Miller said at the press conference. “We need to invest in policy.”
Wills said the commercial corridors in CBs 9, 10, 12 and 13 will be getting periodic cleanings from Wildcats, a program of the nonprofit Fedcap program, which provides paying jobs and job training for city residents such as those on public assistance or recently released from incarceration.
Wills said the Council has allotted $17,000 for the service, which began this month and will continue through the end of the fiscal year in June. He said members are still negotiating funding for the budget year beginning on July 1.
Wills and Ignazio Terranova, citywide Community Affairs officer for the Department of Sanitation, said they have begun a program under which business owners can adopt a city trash can outside of their establishments. The DSNY provides green plastic bags to line them, and the business ties up a half- to two-thirds full bag and calls Sanitation for a pickup.
Terranova said interested business owners can call 311 or the DSNY at (646) 885-4503 for more information.
Wills also said he has the support of Richards, who is the Environmental Committee chairman; Miller, who chairs Labor; and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan).
“We have the funding. We have the legislation. We have the partnerships,” Wills said. “Now we need the people.
And the people appear to be on board.
Yvonne Morgan of the 198th Street Block Association believes the plan is the only way no matter how well DSNY does its job.
“We have to get organized and keep our neighborhoods clean,” she said at the press conference.
Speaking in a telephone interview on Monday evening, Margaret Finnerty, the 20-year president of the Richmond Hill South Civic Association, said she heard Wills outlining his agenda at a recent community board meeting.
She said she likes the multipronged approach, particularly the idea of stiffer fines and increased enforcement.
“We need more enforcement to keep the business districts garbage-free,” she said. “That needs to be stepped up.”
Finnerty said in her experience South Richmond Hill does not have nearly the number of incidents involving things like illegally dumped construction debris or discarded furniture that have been the bane of residents’ existence in places like Jamaica and Springfield Gardens.
But she did say the use of city trash cans by residents and businesses has her neighbors every bit as frustrated, particularly along Liberty Avenue.
“The legislation [increasing fines] is needed,” Finnerty said. “You can have all the enforcement you want, but the fines have to be high enough so that people know there are consequences.”
Jamaica resident Joe Moretti, a vocal critic of the city’s sanitation priorities in the Jamaica region, agreed that the proposals are good — to a point.
He would like to see all dumping and littering fines at least doubled rather than the incremental hikes in the Wills and Koslowitz bills.
“But why has it taken so long to do something like this that myself and others have been saying for some time? ... I mean, why didn’t they do something before?” he asked in an email to the Chronicle.
He believes the broadside approach is the result of activists such as himself forcing the hand of elected officials.