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Calexico Council Members Lament Squalid Downtown Alleys

Open trash bins overloaded with refuse, boxes strewn about and the sickening stench of urine strong in the air is making a relatively small stretch of downtown Calexico alleys unbearable for a pair of city council members.

“We need results, not just talk. … I want the bins cleaned up, not overflowing. I don’t want trash in the alleys. I want the stench removed,” Calexico Mayor Bill Hodge said during a Nov. 18 interview.

The situation comes amid work on the city’s Downtown Action Plan, a multi-pronged effort to clean up downtown and attract more merchants.

“There was movement, but it was done halfway and stopped. They put the gates up, but not the locks,” Hodge explained.

The mayor was referring to two eight-foot wrought iron gates that were installed more than a month ago by the city at the alley entrances between First and Second streets from Rockwood to Heffernan avenues.

The $10,000 gates were paid for by city waste contractor Republic/Allied Waste. They were supposed to be secured with locks at both ends to keep out transients and migrant farmworkers who Hodge and Council Member Morris Reisen said use the alleys as restrooms and who rummage through open and overflowing trash bins at all hours.

Yet even with the gates up, the problems persist, Hodge said, “because people just keep going through the alleys through the unlocked gates.”

Hodge and Reisen met with City Manager David Dale and Assistant City Manager Miguel Figueroa on Nov. 15 to talk about the alleys and some other city issues, Hodge said.

Lack of Locks Questioned

The council members wanted to know why city staff had yet to install the locks as  the council had asked, Hodge said. They were told the locks might result in a liability issue for the city that still needs to be resolved through discussions with the city attorney, he added. Further, Hodge added he was told getting the locks installed might also require either an ordinance or a vote of the council.

Dale wasn’t immediately available for comment on the issue before deadline, as he was out of the office earlier in the week of Nov. 18.

Something has be done soon, Reisen said, because the city will be getting ready to install a second set of wrought iron gates, again paid for by Republic/Allied. They will be placed in the same alley between First and Second streets, but from the other side of Rockwood Avenue to just before the rear entrance of the Greyhound bus station on First and Paulin Avenue.

Reisen and Hodge want to see those gates locked as well.

Reisen was asked why those particular alleys were such troubled areas. He said it’s because of the high concentration of businesses operating on First and Second streets from Heffernan to Paulin.

The state of the alleys is not entirely a city problem, Hodge stressed. While one of the chief complaints he has is how slow the city has been to get the locks installed, the merchants themselves need to shoulder a good deal of the blame for the trash in the alleys.

Reisen, who spends most days in the downtown holding court with merchants, said he has talked to business owners in the area about cutting up their boxes and putting them in their bins rather than just throwing them out back.

Call For More Trash Pick Ups

Also, Hodge said he knows some of the merchants are making a conscious choice to have their trash picked up by Republic/Allied only once a week to keep down costs. That needs to change, Hodge said, and he wants to propose a city ordinance soon that requires business owners to have trash pick-up services a minimum of two times a week.

Likewise, Reisen said he believes the city needs another ordinance requiring locks on trash bins, and the wrought iron alley gates, for that matter, from 7:30 p.m. to 6 a.m. seven days a week. That would keep transients and others from rummaging through the trash at night.

Dale was asked through an email whether there is a mechanism in place to fine or cite downtown merchants for not keeping the alleys clean, such as a nuisance-abatement ordinance. He did not immediately answer due to being out of the office.

Many of the problems that are now driving Hodge and Reisen to speak up seemingly would be solved when a new trash contract with Republic/Allied begins Jan. 1.

Among the tenets of the new contract are various enhancements to the level of service and attention the city’s downtown will receive. This will include downtown trash pick-up five days a week, downtown street-sweeping services three times a week and a Republic/Allied employee working four hours a day, five days a week just making sure trash is picked up and in the trash bins.

However, that original timeline would not be in place to help keep downtown cleaner during the busy holiday shopping season, a time when the area may wish to put on its best face to entice long-term customers.

The renegotiated contract was one element of the action plan. It addresses matters including taxicab placement and the development of a pedestrian plaza near Rockwood and First.

Positive Development

One positive that came from the Nov. 15 discussions with Dale and Figueroa, Hodge and Reisen said, was that Republic/Allied has apparently agreed to start some of its enhanced services by Dec. 1 at no additional cost to the city. Reisen said trash pick-up five days a week will begin next month.

Neither Hodge nor Reisen could say when the issue of the locked gates might be resolved. While Reisen said he might bring up the issue at the Nov. 20 council meeting, no action could be taken because the issue was not on the meeting agenda. The meeting was held after this newspaper’s deadline.

This story is featured in the Nov 21, 2019 e-Edition.

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