2012-10-12 / Columnists

It’s My Turn

A Clean Joke That Will Make You Bristle
By Joan Mettler

Bureaucrats have an excuse for everything. Nowadays for not providing services on the city political level it is the economy. It is so bad, how can anyone request the city provide the services for which our taxes have been paid in the past and are paying for in the present: to wit, street cleaning. Specifically, how can citizens expect the Department of Sanitation to schedule street cleaning in such a tough economy? Don’t get too flustered yet; but, do despair. The street cleaning saga as related to me by a neighborhood resident is a doozy, one bound to provide a laugh and a snicker to all readers.

This particular Peninsula Person (PP) lives on a beach block in Belle Harbor. For the few decades of his tenure here he has gotten his street cleaned fewer times than he has fingers or toes. Why isn’t his block scheduled for regular cleaning? He was never able to find out. But, he knew that by calling the local sanitation garage, he could get street sweeper and machine to make a pass or two down his block. Since the advent of 311, however, the telephone number to the local sanitation garage is no longer in service necessitating the caller to use the 311 service. Thus, for the last ten years or so all this PP had to do to get his block cleaned was to call 311 and place a formal request.

Within the last two weeks the strong winds coming out of the south have deposited a tidy amount of sand on his beach block. Normally by the second week in September, the Parks Department clears the sand from the baffle, pushes it back toward the tide line with a front end loader and installs snow fences to help minimize the amount of sand blowing down beach blocks. This year Parks did not do their job, necessitating Sanitation to help elderly neighbors manage their piles of sand they hosed or brushed curbside. When PP phoned 311 to request a street sweeper last week, he was greeted with a most surprising response.

PP: I am calling to get my street cleaned. It’s not unusual. I’ve done this before.

311: Let me see, which side of the street do you live on?

PP: It doesn’t matter. There is never parking on my street. So sanitation can come any time. Just take down the block number, submit the request and it will be fine.

311: It says here we are only allowed to take complaints about alternate side situations where the sweepers don’t show up at scheduled times.

PP: I don’t understand.

311: There is no place in the complaint rules for streets without alternate side parking to get swept.

PP: Since when?

311: Those are the rules. Would you like me to apply for alternate side of the street parking for your block?

PP: You don’t understand. The reason we don’t have alternate side is the street is a narrow dead end street. Alternate side would cause a safety issue if fire engines had to gain access to our block. We can’t have alternate side here. Why should that disqualify us from getting this city service?

311: I can’t answer that; but, if you still wish to complain I can provide an address for you to write your complaint. Would you like to take down the address?

PP: Wait a minute. I phoned you because I can’t phone Sanit directly. Now they want me to write them a letter. I phoned to avoid writing a letter. This is inane.

311: I can take a complaint as to the fact you couldn’t register your complaint and send that off to Sanitation headquarters.

PP: By all means.

311: This is the address if you still want to write: Department of Sanitation, Office of Community Affairs Rm. 728, 125 Worth Street, NY, NY 10013.

This PP, to make sure he got the gist of the 311 conversation correct, phoned 311 a second time where he got the same information from the operator who then transferred the call to a sanitation specialist.

Spec: You want your street cleaned by a mechanical broom?

PP: Yes. And, I live on a street with no parking anytime signs which would allow the mechanical brooms access 24/7/365.

Spec: We’re instructed to only take complaints on streets with alternate side signs.

PP: What about the rest of us taxpayers. Aren’t we entitled to clean streets for our tax dollars? We got this service in the past even if we did have to phone for it and now you are telling me we are no longer entitled to any ‘mechanical broom’ service?

Spec: I don’t know about past policies but if you are dissatisfied with the current policy, you could lodge a complaint which I could take now or you could write to Sanitation Headquarters.

PP: This is my complaint: How can you justify never scheduling my block for street sweeping? The mechanical broom is welcome 24/7/365 as there is no parking on the block any time for safety reasons. If you insist upon eliminating my block from your street sweeping service, I demand a rebate on my city taxes for what would be paid a mechanical broom operator for the time he would spend on my block.

Spec: I understand.

PP: Thanks for understanding. You can be sure I will be writing a letter. I can’t wait for the response.

Once again our tax dollars are not working for us. What used to be remedied by a single local phone call was handed off to 311 and now to snail mail. Talk about one step forward and two steps backward. It is one thing picking up paper from the street or hosing down eggs at Halloween. Moving sand is an entirely different matter. In light of this, PP has one additional request: If the people at ‘Headquarters’ climbed the ladder of Sanitation success, how about leaving headquarters a day a week, heading out to Rockaway and manning the mechanical broom? What’s wrong with brushing up on what got you to the executive level?

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