Weeds, weeds, weeds: The perennial Santa Fe problem

September 3, 2018

Yes, those lovely rains that have been soaking Santa Fe have their downside. Weeds, weeds and more weeds.

If citizens aren’t tearing up the phones at City Hall calling to complain, perhaps it’s because they have given up. City parks, medians and other public spaces continually appear unkempt. That’s become a reality in Santa Fe.

Last week, when city councilors discussed this perennial problem at a Public Works Committee meeting, Councilor Mike Harris said, in his inimitable style: “I wouldn’t characterize the medians as horrible. Certainly there’s ongoing work that needs to be done. Last year was horrible, so we’re a cut above that. I don’t know what that adjective would be.”

We can do better than a cut above horrible. Really.

Making sure that improvement continues will be one of the primary jobs of John Muñoz, the city’s new Parks and Recreation Department director. He will be examining how better to use city crews, including starting work earlier in the year — in February and March — to get ahead of the problem. Starting earlier helped this year, with an extra $200,000 allowing Parks and Recreation to hire additional seasonal workers. The trouble was, between dramatic storms, floods and, now, steady rains, the weeds are winning again.

More than seasonal crews and early attention to public spaces, Santa Fe has to fix the systems. The city has to plan medians — from the start — that are more weed-resistant, especially important since ordinances prohibit workers from using most herbicides. We’ve all discussed the need (or not) for weed-blocking fabric. Whether through barriers or median design, the key to stopping unsightly weeds is to discourage their growth in the first place.

Richard Thompson, division director in charge of taking care of weeds, put it in perspective: “The idea is we need to start doing something differently or we need to get used to the weeds.” We choose the former.

If the city can’t find enough workers, perhaps some of these jobs can be contracted out. There are landscaping companies, handymen and others in Santa Fe who know how to pull weeds. Ask YouthWorks if it has any young people available to learn landscaping; same with the Santa Fe Community College — surely, students studying agriculture or landscaping there might want practical experience. As we always recommend, involve private businesses and citizens, too, so that we all take pride in picking up Santa Fe.

What do other cities do? Find out. Perhaps they hire more workers than Santa Fe can afford, but perhaps they just have better systems in place — In cities such as Phoenix, it’s almost shocking how few weeds can be found. In Colorado towns like Durango and Pagosa Springs, the streets, parks and trails seem simply tidier.

We have been criticized in the past, with some saying it appears that we think weeds are the most important issue facing Santa Fe. That’s hardly the case, but an inability to manage weeding of medians or caring for public parks shows a lack of attention to setting up efficient, functioning systems. Look at the roundabouts in the Bellamah neighborhood; even without weeds, they are flat-out ugly. We start behind.

That inability to get ahead of problems is a symptom for Santa Fe — failing to take care of the small things that make life better, whether picking up trash before bins overflow or maintaining parks. The good news is that, yes, the weeds in public spaces are not quite as bad as last year. Now, can we stop settling for not quite horrible?

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