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Cruise and clean

Sweeping Santa Clarita streets not as simple as it looks

Posted: June 18, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: June 18, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Clean Sweep Environmental driver Jonathan Harding adjusts the controls of the street sweeper in an area in Sand Canyon on Friday.

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Jonathan Harding looked down at a pile of small rocks and gravel on the side of the Sand Canyon area road and went over it slowly and carefully in his propane-powered street sweeper.

Operating different buttons in the sweeper, Harding looked in his mirror to see some rocks still remaining near the homeowner's driveway.

"Better go over it again," Harding said, carefully putting the sweeper in reverse before moving on to clear more of the flow line - the area near the curb where the water flows - along the street.

It is a process that Harding repeats week after week as he follows 28 street-sweeping routes around Santa Clarita. Harding works for Clean Sweep Environmental, which contracts with Santa Clarita for the sweeping of public roads, trails and city-owned parking lots.

A city program

During the summer, spring and winter, most residential streets are swept once a month throughout the city, said Environmental Services Supervisor Scott Hamilton. The exceptions are privately owned streets - which the city does not sweep - and main thoroughfares such as Soledad Canyon Road and Bouquet Canyon Road. Those streets are swept once a week late at night or early in the morning to avoid traffic.

During the fall, streets are swept once a week throughout the city because of the large amount of blowing leaves. Although Santa Clarita only sweeps once a month, the city doesn't receive a lot of complaints relative to its size, Hamilton said. Other cities such as Glendale and Thousand Oaks sweep every two weeks, according to Glendale's and Thousand Oaks' websites.

Santa Clarita doesn't give out tickets to people who park on the street, but Harding said most residents try to move their cars, with some dashing out to move their cars when they hear him coming. If the car isn't moved, Harding drives around it with the surprisingly agile sweeper.

In addition to the 18,020 miles of curb swept each year, all city-owned parking lots are swept each month - totaling 14.75 million square feet each year, Hamilton said. Clean Sweep also cleans 2,132 miles of trails each year using a lower, slightly smaller sweeper.

Although many of the streets Harding was sweeping Friday in the Sand Canyon area appeared mostly clean except for water, pine needles and some small rocks, Hamilton said a large amount of trash still winds up in gutters throughout the city.

"It's amazing how much trash winds up in curbs and gutters," Hamilton said. The city is obligated to keep trash out of the storm water system through the federal Clean Water Act. The funding for the street sweeping program, which is contracted at $562,220 annually comes from the city's storm water utility fund, Hamilton said.

Technology and recycling

The street sweeper normally drives about 8 mph, and the sweepers are tracked through GPS technology, Hamilton said. The city can tell how fast the sweeper is going, where it is and if the booms for sweeping were down. This allows staff to check on street sweeping complaints from residents.

About 1,000 tons of debris - including leaves and trash - is collected each year in the city, an average of 83.39 tons each month, Hamilton said. That debris is recycled and normally used to cover trash at landfills. Clean Sweep still must pay to use the landfills, "just not as much as if you were dumping trash," Hamilton said, adding that the cost of dumping the debris is in the contract with the contractor.

Sweeping stories

Harding said a fellow sweeper working at night once found and turned in a brand-new laptop in a gutter near an industrial center. Harding has also picked up money that somehow wound up in gutters.

"I do find money every once in a while," Harding said. "I found almost $200 in about a month after Fourth of July."

Harding explained that the job is much more than sitting in a seat and driving. He has to keep changing screens on his sweeper and maintain it constantly so it keeps running - which means he normally has a dirty shirt by the end of the day.

For Harding, one of the best parts of his job is being able to say hello to residents and interact with them. On Friday, a number of residents came out while he was working in the Sand Canyon area and waved to him.

Harding also said that some people bring him water, and he's even had some "races" with local children.

"Sometimes I get the kids racing me in their electric cars," Harding said.

Harding lives in Quartz Hill and sometimes works in other places, but considers Santa Clarita as his hometown when it comes to his job.

"This is my main hometown," Harding said. "This is where I like to be."




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