Why is it so hard to fix Bexar’s trash problems?
Arlis Olson wants mandatory trash service for suburban neighborhoods in unincorporated Bexar County. So do her neighbors Karen Roth and Mallie Van.
They are tired of picking up the trash others leave behind. Tired of seeing dumped mattresses, couches and TVs at empty street corners. They are disgusted by trash bags piled high behind a strip mall near their Candlewood Park neighborhood on the Northeast Side near Kirby. They are exhausted by asking the county to do something even though they know that something is never enough.
This is a slightly different story than The Glen, a Northeast Side neighborhood where garbage can pile 5 feet high, and it oozes and seeps across the street. It is an out-of-control public health crisis.
That doesn’t happen at Candlewood Park, just beyond the city of San Antonio’s limits. The trash problem is not nearly so extreme here. But that doesn’t mean there should be a trash problem — and it points to the failure by the county and state lawmakers to meaningfully address this issue.
Candlewood Park has the familiar and orderly trappings of the suburbs. Good schools. Spacious homes. Quiet streets. Part of its allure is being beyond city limits, and development signs herald the lack of city property taxes.
It’s a fine place to live. Many military families call this neighborhood home, Van said. It’s a mixture of rentals and longtime residents. But, yes, there is dumping and trash.
As Olson wrote in a letter to Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff in March, “We have a cleanup crew of neighbors that pick trash a couple of times a week. Our efforts are the only things keeping our neighborhood from swimming in trash like other unincorporated areas of Bexar County.”
Some of that dumping is coming from beyond the neighborhood. But some of it is coming from neighbors who don’t have private trash service, the three women said.
“It’s just an ongoing problem,” Roth said. “It’s time for us to have mandatory garbage collection.”
It was a sunny April morning, and the three women sat around Olson’s kitchen table as a breeze drifted through open windows.
“It won’t solve everything,” Olson said of mandatory trash service. “But it would help.”
Van agreed, but added she would like to see regular bulky pickup to deal with the mattresses, sofas and TVs.
None of this is unreasonable. It’s not unreasonable to want your neighborhood to be free of garbage and dumping. Just as it’s not unreasonable to look at the mounds of garbage in The Glen and be disgusted, not just by the trash, but the inaction from the county and state.
Why is it two years after legislation was passed to grant the county the power to mandate trash service, so many Bexar neighborhoods continue to have trash problems? Why is it nearly four years after the city and county successfully partnered to provide mandatory trash service in the Camelot II neighborhood, no such partnership can be formed for The Glen? It’s the next neighborhood over with nearly identical conditions.
The answer to these questions resides in that 2017 legislation. When state Sen. José Menéndez filed it, the legislation originally included language that required landlords to provide trash service. But that language was stripped away.
Menéndez said the law still gives the county the authority to do something, “and they are choosing not to.”
This may be so — never underestimate the power of indifference — but there is no doubt removing the landlord language undercut the intent.
Why? Because as many residents in The Glen and Camelot II have said, much of the trash problem in these neighborhoods is tied to rental properties.
But wait, there is more.
While the law allows the county to contract with the city or private haulers to provide mandatory trash service, it also allows residents to keep their existing trash service. This is problematic because the city would never provide such a service to a patchwork of homes (and the city has no interest in serving the unincorporated county). And if residents can keep their trash service, the county can’t put an entire subdivision out to bid for one hauler.
Menéndez said it’s probably too late in the session to fix the legislation. He’s hoping to meet with county officials.
In other words, it’s a political and bureaucratic mess — and Olson, Roth and Van are stuck with the cleanup.