Noe Valley Voice April 2001

Bruce and His Broom Brigade Keep Our Streets Spiffy

By Kathy Dalle-Molle

Noe Valley native Kenny Bruce and his nine-man work crew are pulling out all their buckets, brooms, trash bags, and gloves to keep Noe Valley one clean neighborhood.

Tuesday through Saturday, Bruce--the street cleaning supervisor for Noe Valley, Glen Park, the Castro, and other neighborhoods in District 8--spends eight hours a day making sure trash, dirt, and other refuse from our streets, stairways, and plazas are swept away.

Earlier this year, to better serve individual neighborhoods, the Department of Public Works (DPW) reorganized its cleaning operations from four areas into 11, based on the new Board of Supervisor districts. In addition to Bruce and his crew, two environmental control officers who write tickets for littering, illegal dumping, and spraying graffiti are assigned to District 8.

"It's been very positive for us to work in a smaller area than we had been," says Bruce, who has been a street cleaning supervisor for the past seven years. "It was very difficult before to patrol a really large area. Now, with a more concentrated area, I can keep on top of things. We're constantly up and down the streets, and we have a good handle on which streets have more problems."

Even though Bruce, his wife, and two children now live in South San Francisco, he still has a soft spot for the neighborhood where he grew up. He was raised on Church Street, attended St. Paul's Elementary, and married wife Patricia in St. Paul's Church.

"I really take a lot of pride in maintaining this district," he says. "Citizens show a lot of concern here."

Bruce's workday begins at 6 a.m., when he meets his crew at DPW's Bureau of Street Environmental Services dispatch office on Cesar Chavez Street. He reviews the day's assignments with the crew members, who gather up their work supplies and take off in four white DPW litter-patrol trucks. By 6:30 a.m., Bruce and his crew are on the road in District 8 for most of the day until their 3 p.m. quitting time. Bruce keeps in constant communication with the dispatch office, which calls to alert him of any calls or complaints from neighbors.

All complaints are logged into the computer, given an ID number, and passed along to Bruce and his crew. Once his crew has cleaned up the problem, Bruce alerts a dispatch operator to update the status in the computer.

"People can call us about trash at 28-CLEAN 24 hours a day," says Bruce. "We promise that all problems will be taken care of within 24 hours--but hopefully it'll be a whole lot quicker than that."

The District 8 crew's first stop of the day is usually one of three "hot spots" --areas that gather the most trash overnight. These are the intersection of Church and Market (near the Muni stops); the intersection of Castro, Market, and 17th; and the lookout on Twin Peaks. "Kids and tourists go up there every night, and by morning there is always a load of trash all over the place," says Bruce.

After spending at least an hour or two on the hot spots, Bruce and his crew move on to their other assignments, which can include anything from cleaning a cement or oil spill, picking up an illegally dumped broken TV, or collecting scattered pages of the Bay Guardian and S.F. Weekly blowing around near the 24th and Castro bus stop. The crew also gets many calls asking that they clean up after homeless people, who have urinated or defecated on streets and in front of stores.

Throughout the day, Bruce and his crew patrol up and down the streets of District 8, from Duboce to 24th to Chenery, trying to keep streets and handicapped ramps debris-free.

"We deal with quite a bit of illegal dumping," says Bruce. "Not too much in Noe Valley, although at the top of Alvarado Street a couple of weeks ago, someone had dumped all sorts of garbage which we got a call to pick up. There's also a lot of illegal dumping around Guerrero at 15th and 16th. We pick up a lot of old couches around there.

"Refrigerators are another big problem," Bruce continues. "If we get a call about a refrigerator, we attend to that immediately. It's a huge safety issue if a refrigerator has been dumped with its door still on, because kids will see it on the street and get inside to play and then close the door and suffocate. We always go immediately if there's a dumped refrigerator and bust off the door, to make it safe until Sunset Scavenger comes to pick it up."

If Bruce finds a name and address among illegally dumped debris (yes, believe it or not, people do dump correspondence and junk mail), he contacts one of the environmental control officers for District 8, so they can follow up and possibly cite the person. Often, though, people dump yard cuttings, wood, and other kinds of debris that carry no identification.

Except for the bus stops at 24th and Castro and 24th and Church, Bruce says, "Noe Valley is pretty clean as far as a city neighborhood goes.

"We just see pretty common trash--small items, coffee cups," he explains. "The four catch basins in the sewer grates at the intersections of Castro and 24th are monitored throughout the day because people waiting for the bus throw a lot of junk in the street, and then it blows into the basins. We try to make sure there aren't any plastic bags covering the basins or newspapers stuck in them so they don't get stopped up."

Bruce encourages all Noe Valley residents to participate in a special District 8 Cleanup, to be held on four Saturdays in June. Each month, San Francisco's Community Clean Team, comprised of city government officials, the nonprofit Clean City Coalition, and neighborhood groups and residents, selects one of the 11 districts and tackles its garbage and graffiti while cleaning up and beautifying the parks, buildings, and schoolyards.

Typically, the first and fourth Saturday of the month are devoted to the district's trashiest areas. The second Saturday of the month focuses on graffiti removal, and the third Saturday of the month is devoted to the cleanup of neighborhood parks, landscaping, and tree planting.

"But there's no reason Noe Valley has to wait until June to get organized," says Bruce. "People really need to take a hands-on approach if they want their neighborhood to look better than it already does."

He's a big advocate of DPW's Adopt-a-Street Program, a partnership between San Francisco, its merchants, and residents in which groups or individuals agree to adopt a street or an area and take responsibility for keeping it clean. DPW will provide the group with the necessary supplies and also will collect any litter that is picked up. The program began in late 1998 and has over 1,000 participants, including Small Frys kids' clothing store, the Friends of Noe Valley, Starbucks on 24th Street, Edison Charter Academy, Alvarado Elementary School, and James Lick Middle School.

"I really take pride in this neighborhood," says Bruce. "I love this city. I love this job, and it's an honor to keep up the area I grew up in."

For information on the Adopt-a-Street Program, call 98-ADOPT. To report problems with litter, illegal dumping, or a 24-hour emergency, call 28-CLEAN. If you have any complaints or questions regarding graffiti, call the Graffiti Hotline at 241-WASH. To reach Kenny Bruce, call 695-2017.

To comment on street cleaning and graffiti issues in District 8 and to read what your neighbors think, visit DPW's web site at and click on the Neighborhood E-Forum.

Voice reporter Alison Pence contributed to this story.