By Nao Braverman
Are Ojai’s street sweepers actually doing their job or just kicking up dirt and debris? Several local residents and business owners who claim to have been caught in a dust cloud behind the city’s street sweeping vehicle, wanted to know.
“The streets are full of contaminants, insecticides, urine, rubber from cars,” said Ernie Salomon, owner of the Matilija Plaza Group. “Now all you have is a machine that sweeps that stuff up into the air.”
According to Salomon the local street sweeping vehicle would be more efficient if it “sprayed the streets down and then sucked up the debris,” as some Los Angeles County motor sweepers do. But Ojai’s machine just blows the filth right back into the atmosphere, he said, citing the sweeping mechanism’s “old technology.”
Ojai has been using the same company and services for at least 20 years, according to Venco Western’s spokesperson Bill Barrett. A 2006 Ojai Public Works report shows that the the city used to pay Venco Western directly for street sweeping services but decided to transfer the services to Ojai’s solid waste collector, E.J. Harrison & Sons at the end of July 2006.
E.J Harrison & Sons now includes street sweeping in their solid waste contract with the city and charges residents about 95 cents more for street sweeping in their trash collection bill every other month, saving the approximately $48,000 yearly cost to the city’s general fund.
While residents are now paying for street sweeping service, instead of the city, the service itself has not changed, said public works director Mike Culver. While the payment now goes first to E.J. Harrison & Sons, E.J. Harrison & Sons still contracts Venco Western to do the actual sweeping, he explained.
Barrett said that the company has been using the same methods and technology they used when the city of Ojai paid them directly. Venco now gets about $88 more each month after the new arrangement.
Venco employees use a Tymco Model 600 heavy duty sweeper, and service alternating routes throughout the city on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. The machine drives across the street side sweeping dirt and debris with a gutter broom which sprays a fine mist of water to keep the dust down as much as possible, said Barrett. A pick-up head on the vehicle is supposed to suck up the debris being swept off the streets.
Several residents have complained that the sweeper doesn’t use water. But Barrett insisted that a fine mist of water should always be emitted from the machine as a dust suppression mechanism. The machine uses very little water however, and hardly leaves a mark, so residents might not be able to see it, he added.
Culver said that Venco’s street sweeping employees could have run out of water, or could have been driving the vehicle too quickly when residents sighted unhealthy clouds of dust rising from behind their machine.
An Ojai Valley News reporter did not notice any dust cloud and ample water was being used on by the street sweeping machine Tuesday morning, however.
According to the 2006 public works report, the city decided to contract with E.J. Harrison & Sons also because they provide recycling services and recycle the debris through California Wood Recycling. The recycling company takes dirt and debris transferred from Venco to E.J. Harrison & Sons, screens it and reuses the organic matter as soil amendment.
The recycling of street debris included in the street sweeping contract with E.J. Harrison & Sons helps the city comply with Assembly Bill 939. The 1989 Integrated Waste Management Act mandates California cities to significantly reduce their contribution to landfills.
By Nao Braverman