By Ed Hersh
From rat infestations to dog poop to overflowing trash receptacles to uncollected garbage, New York City’s Department of Sanitation Commissioner Jessica Tisch heard a basketful of concerns from Upper West Side residents Wednesday night at an hour-long virtual community forum organized by the Upper West Side Coalition. Tisch, in her current position since April, answered questions from coalition members and an online audience, as well as explaining some of her goals and challenges in keeping the city clean.
She told the group that when she was appointed five months ago, “I said the city was filthy. There was a diminution of funding for cleaning; we had essentially been defunded from the cleanliness business.” The greatest number of complaints to 311 were about overflowing trash cans at street corners.
Since July 1st, citywide, Tisch has restored some of the cuts, and said “there’s been a significant increase in litter basket service.” As a result, 311 complaints are down 60%. “It’s not controversial to say that New York City needs more litter baskets,” Tisch said, despite a former, counterintuitive policy that said less trash baskets were more efficacious. More baskets involves also finding funding for additional trucks and crews.
Tisch pointed out that in many situations — for example, when to place trash at the curb, cleaning up after pets, and removal of trash from around and under sidewalk sheds — multiple rules are already in place, but suffer from a lack of compliance. She said several times that she is looking into providing “additional enforcement” by department agents.
For addressing rat infestations, Tisch only offered long-term solutions. She is looking at shortening the time between when trash is put out and when it is picked up. “Changing the put-out time will improve the rat problem,” she said, but no new rules have been issued. Also being examined is requiring curbside containers to shield trash from rats. But, because of the cost and staffing issues at buildings and on trucks, these are not likely to be implemented anytime soon.
There were several questions about overflowing trash cans and rats in Riverside Park. While she was sympathetic, Tisch said it is the jurisdiction of the Parks Department not Sanitation. Any complaints Sanitation receives about parks are forwarded to the Parks Department.
In response to several questions about pet waste and litter tossed under benches and on streets, Tisch said it’s “absolutely unacceptable,” and reiterated her focus on increased enforcement. But she also said that personal responsibility must be part of the solution. “There are millions of New Yorkers and just 7,000 sanitation workers. Ultimately, we can’t clean up after every one of them.”
Tisch said the best way to report problems is through the 311 system, by phone, computer or app, which she and the department use to develop a data-driven picture of where the trouble spots are. “If it’s a Sanitation-related issue, I will look into it,” she pledged, as well as promising to respond in writing to the Coalition on the many questions there was no time to answer in this virtual forum.
You can watch the forum below.