Christina Vanoverbeke, CVanoverbeke@ExplorerNews.com
Nov. 30, 2005 - Oro Valley threw away tons of trash this fall.
Furniture, mattresses, refrigerators, water heaters and piles and piles of dead vegetation were hauled to curbs and heaved into trash cans in an effort to clean up a handful of neighborhoods.
The neighborhoods would not be considered blighted by most, but in order to keep up with Oro Valley standards, they needed some sprucing up, according to town officials.
Every day in Oro Valley, miles of streets are swept, dozens of trashcans are emptied and rows of shrubs are trimmed in order to keep the town manicured. Behind those efforts are more than $1.1 million in contracts, employee salaries and equipment investments.
The administrators who oversee these maintenance duties say that the town is kept clean because that is what residents expect, and to keep up with the current standards, more of an investment will be needed in the near future.
Between three town departments - parks and recreation, zoning, and streets - there are 25 full-time and 2 part-time employees who are responsible for the appearance of the 30 square miles that compose Oro Valley.
"We work well together. There's a lot of creative problem solving that goes on between us," said Dee Widero, the zoning administrator.
She knows because over the last two years she has teamed up with the streets department for a neighborhood clean-up project.
Last year, Oro Valley's zoning department started the program to stay ahead of neighborhood clutter. The town received dozens of complaints from residents about overgrown lots on their streets or neighbors that were letting garbage and debris pile up in yards.
The neighborhood clean-ups are the idea of Widero, who wanted a way to deal with residents who are violating the town's zoning codes by having fallen fences, cars, boats and other trash piled up in their yards.
"We thought, instead of putting violations on the properties, let's help address the problem," Widero said.
Widero said she got positive feedback from the communities involved after the first year, as well as inquiries about when the town might expand the program to other neighborhoods. The first neighborhoods chosen were ones on large lots and those that were not otherwise kept up by homeowner's associations.
"It went well. The thing people said the most was that it wasn't long enough and there weren't enough dumpsters. We wanted to do more this year," she said.
Throughout October and November, the zoning department, with help from the streets department, placed large construction dumpsters in four different neighborhoods in the south and southeast areas of the town.
Residents were encouraged to use the opportunity to get rid of yard clippings and trash at no cost to them. The endeavor cost the town more than $6,000 and filled about 30 72-ton roll-off dumpsters to the brim with garbage.
"We went over budget this year, which shows the need," said Lori Warren, the street superintendent.
Town staff members also showed up in two of the neighborhoods on two different days to help haul all the trash to the dumpsters.
"It was especially helpful for some of the elderly people living in those communities. Some of them have trouble just getting the trash to the curb. And they're on fixed incomes, so it's not like they can afford to do it themselves. We had a lot of fun and the residents were so grateful. I think it was a very positive event," Widero said.
"If we have a clean community, those people that we have helped then help us to keep the town clean. It's a little cost to the town and the community, but we will be paid back 10-fold," Widero said.
Keeping ahead of the trash heap is a goal of the departments responsible for town appearance and maintenance.
Ainsley Reeder, the parks and recreation administrator, said there is a philosophy behind keeping the town spotless.
"When you keep something clean, people are less likely to litter. That's the rule. As the town has gotten bigger, we've never let that get away from us," she said.
The parks and recreation department oversees the clean up of the town's parks, including James D. Kriegh Park, Canyon del Oro Riverfront Park and West Lambert Lane Park. The department also maintains town hall and the four bicycle and pedestrian oasises in the town.
Part of the clean up is contracted out to AAA Landscaping, which is paid $130,000 a year to mow the grass and trim tall trees. That contract is shared between the parks department and the streets department, to help maintain rights-of-way. The main reason the tasks are contracted is that the town has not invested in equipment, such as mowers, or the people to operate the mowers on a regular basis, Reeder said.
Reeder said both her staff and the streets crews have a staff member on-call at all times in case a problem arises. In addition, the Sun City Posse, a volunteer group in the community, keeps an eye out for issues and calls the department when needed.
"There are virtually no problems with litter in the parks. Even after a big festival, there is very little trash to pick up," Reeder said. It's a matter of respect for property, which she believes translates to lower crime rates and a safer community overall.
There are dozens of trashcans in the parks, making it convenient to throw something into a receptacle instead of tossing it to the ground. And the cans are kept empty because people are more likely to toss something to the ground if they see that a trashcan is overflowing, Reeder said.
Keeping the town clean is not only a paid endeavor. Volunteers help each year through the Adopt-a-Road, Adopt-a-Wash and Adopt-a-Trail programs, which are coordinated through the town. Groups such as the Eagle Scouts, as well as individuals and families congregate a few times each year to pick up litter and make sure the various paths are clear.
Those volunteer groups also help the streets department, which is responsible for maintaining more than 200 miles of streets in Oro Valley, and even more miles of bike paths and multi-use paths.
That number grows as the town grows. The number of street lanes to clean has more than doubled in the last five years because of new road openings and road expansions.
Ninety-nine percent of the streets in town are maintained by the town's streets department. The streets crew is responsible for sweeping those streets, filling potholes, sealing cracks, maintaining the rights of way by keeping them clean, and making sure the landscaping is pruned. The exception to this maintenance are the private streets within gated communities.
The area that presents the biggest challenge to road crews is Tangerine Road. Because it is a connector between Oracle Road and Interstate 10, Warren said there are a lot of people just passing through town who may not respect the "no littering" policies.
This year, Oro Valley invested $65,000 in a new sweeper to clean the multiuse paths that run side-by-side with many of the roads in town. The sweeper fits in the tunnels that run under some of the streets and is equipped with a pressure washer to help clean-up crews remove graffiti. Warren said defacing the walls inside the tunnels with graffiti is a relatively new problem happening with more frequency in Oro Valley.
The "green machine" as it is called, was shipped from Scotland and is the second of its kind in Arizona. It is one of a few used in the United States. Scottsdale and Beverly Hills are among the other towns that use the machine.
"Our council understood that in order to maintain a community of excellence, we need to have the right tools," Warren said about the purchase. The paths are swept every week, and it takes between 12 and 16 hours to clean them.
Bike paths are cleaned once each month and every public street in the town is swept at least four times each year.
A five-person crew is responsible for sweeping those streets. A three-person crew patches all the potholes and seals all the cracks.
"We have a policy here in Oro Valley. We never let a pothole get older than 24 hours, from the time we become aware of it, before we get it filled," Warren said.
Sometimes the crews have to choose between replacing stop signs and picking up trash on the side of the road. Each time, they will choose the stop sign, said Warren.
Warren said that when delegating her staff's time, it's safety first, aesthetics second. But it's a close second, she said, because people in Oro Valley notice when things don't look right.
"Three laborers, town-wide, cannot keep up," Warren said. Because the town grew quickly in the last five years, and because the town is between census counts, Warren hopes that when the mid-decade count is taken the town will be eligible to receive more highway funds and increase her staff.
Not too long ago, a bag of trash was dumped on the side of the road near James D. Kriegh Park on Calle Concordia. The town received several phone calls complaining about it, asking when it would be picked up.
"We knew about it immediately. People call us, they say, 'This is Oro Valley.' They don't want to see trash on the roads. You build your reputation, your image, by word of mouth," Warren said.
Bob Kovitz, the town's community and governmental affairs director, agreed that the town does hear from its residents when there is an issue with its appearance.
"People move to Oro Valley because of the way it looks. They have certain expectations," Kovitz said.