Cleaner street are on the way

City Manager Jay Ash (left) and Councillor Richard Maronski painted over the graffi ti on a Central Avenue utility box this past fall. One of the 48 proposals in Ash’s “Cleaner Chelsea Initiative” fi led this week is to create a utility box art program to encourage local artist to use the boxes as canvases and to discourage graffi ti vandals.

The persistent, pernicious, sometimes overwhelming nature of the trashproblem in this city has defied the best efforts of leadership here for decades.

Chelsea’s streets and sidewalks, some of its major arteries and its many side streets are often used as trash receptacles by the unwitting and those who don’t know any better.

Trash day, as organized as it has become, leaves a trash residue that is breathtaking from time to time.

In a final, major, concerted effort to right what is wrong with the trash scene in this city, City Manager Jay Ash is suggesting a 10 point plan to sweep the city clean of its gutter, sidewalk and street trash.

Entitled “Cleaning Up Our Act,” it is very ambitious and bold. It runs 37 pages and 15,000 words.

In essence, it is all about getting and staying clean.

It is a treatise that engages Chelsea residents about what they already know – that there is great frustration about litter on the streets, weeds growing on lots and graffiti on buildings visible for all to see.

“I think we universally feel like Chelsea should be a cleaner place.  It’s nice to hear from those who’ve visited after a long-time away that the city looks great, but for those of us who have had a hand in that, we’re still frustrated by litter on the streets, weeds growing on lots and graffiti still on buildings.  This initiative could help make our community sparkle by providing the ‘carrot and stick’ approaches to get us to a cleaner place,” said Ash.

The city manager’s trash initiative includes 48 proposals – the results of City Council contributions, comments raised by the public at various forums, individual conversations with local residents and his own observations.

“He’s certainly an expert,” said City Council President Leo Robinson.  “We’ve all seen him painting over graffiti or taking a DPW truck around town for a Saturday clean-up.  More importantly, he’s listened to many and crafted a well thought-out plan to make Chelsea a cleaner place.

“That’s a goal we all want to see the City succeed in accomplishing.”

The 10 points include initiatives on household trash placement, graffiti, litter, street sweeping, eliminating blight, beautification, community partnerships, education, statewide policy advocacy and administration.  Each of the 48 proposals includes a discussion of the topic, a goal to impact the topic and the identification of the parties responsible for leading the effort to accomplish the goal.

“It’s a great roadmap for all of City government to take direction and for the community to support,” commented Councillor at Large Calvin Brown, who, like Robinson and his numerous other colleagues, often joins Ash out in the community for clean-ups.

“Many of us have done all we can, and yet we haven’t fully reached our ultimate goal.  The successes, though, like a graffiti-free train station, do indicate that even more focused action could produce even more results.  I can’t wait to roll-up my sleeves in a coordinated and comprehensive effort to make our city even more clean,” added Brown.

Brown, Robinson and others joined Ash in the fall of 2009 for an “Occasional Forum for Public Input” discussion about household trash and recycling.  Ash’s initiative relies upon that discussion to propose changes to the way trash is placed out for pick-up, and to raise the City’s woeful recycling rate, which, at 5%, is 75% below the statewide average.

The plan for trash requires residents to use either a barrel or a special bag approved by the City.  Those bags will be sold at cost, plus a small handling fee for retailers.  Ash says that the community is emphatic in its belief that the way many residents put trash out for pick-up is a major source of trash in neighborhoods.

“All it takes is one person to put their household trash out in a flimsy bag not designed to hold the trash for that trash to start blowing around the neighborhood.  We’ve all seen it, and been impacted by it.  Too many of us have pride in Chelsea, though, to allow it to continue,” boasted Ash.

That barrel or city bag initiative is one of many proposals that require approval of various City boards, like the City Council, Board of Health or Licensing Board.  Ash’s plan actually contains an index of actions that the various City authorities will be responsible for addressing.

“It’s going to take us a better part of the year to get through the various proposals, but I’m committed as my top priority for 2011 to see City government through each and every one.  Some may not be adopted, or may otherwise be modified.  Any single deletion or modification probably isn’t as critical as just getting us all on the same page when it comes to what we should be doing next,” advised Ash.

Some of the recommendations can be implemented without Council or board approval.  For example, the City has already implemented a new street sweeping schedule, adding the months of December and March to the street sweeping calendar that once ran from April to November.

“That’s a smart approach, because it’s the most efficient way for the City to clean.  However, it would be my hope, and that of many others, that people would stop throwing their trash on the ground and otherwise be cleaning-up after themselves so that the City wouldn’t have to clean-up at all,” stressed Councillor Brian Hatleberg.

Ash’s initiative envisions the hiring of a full-time waste coordinator and part-time recycling coordinator, creation of a grant program for property owners to beautify their properties around bus stops, adoption of an ordinance to require property owners to sweep their sidewalks weekly, beautification of utility boxes through a public art program and strengthening of the abandoned shopping cart ordinance.  On other public policy matters, it recommends efforts to extend deposits to all drink containers, create a recycling program for scratch tickets and establish a local surcharge for the use of plastic shopping bags by consumers.

“Make no mistake, this plan is not without controversy.  Some will not appreciate getting a fine for not sweeping or needing to pay a nickel to get a plastic shopping bag instead of using a reusable bag.  I make no apology for raising even the most controversial of issues, because we have to have adult conversations around here about our streets and our environment.  Many have already weighed in and others will be asked to do so.  We will be thoughtful about what we actually end up adopting, and even more resolute about making a difference in our community,” stressed Ash.

Ash says he will ask the Board of Health and the City Council to conduct hearings on the initiative and modify any of the points prior to offering a final plan.  Residents interested in reviewing the draft initiative may do so by going on the City’s website,, and clicking on Document Center and City Manager Documents to find the plan.

“The plan is the result of hundreds of conversations and 18-months of work.  That said, I’d welcome any feedback and hope to get to a final version that is widely supported and universally implemented,” said Ash.

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