New Department of Sanitation and Streets
Department of Sanitation and Streets, Sanitation and Streets Commission and Public Works Commission
Establishes a new Department of Sanitation and Streets by splitting up the Department of Public Works and creates oversight commissions for both departments.
What the Measure Would Do
Proposition B would transfer some of the existing responsibilities of the Department of Public Works to a new Department of Sanitation and Streets. The new department would be responsible for:
- Keeping streets and sidewalks clean and in good repair
- Maintaining public restrooms along streets and sidewalks
- Managing city trash cans
- Removing graffiti in public rights-of-way
- Maintaining street trees
- Repairing, remodeling and managing city-owned buildings and facilities
In the future, the Board of Supervisors could transfer these responsibilities to other agencies with a two-thirds majority vote of the board, rather than having to return to voters to make those changes.
The Department of Public Works (which would keep its name) would continue to be responsible for:
- Designing, building and constructing many public buildings
- Designing, building, and constructing most public infrastructure on the city’s rights-of-way (such as streets and sidewalks)
The measure would also create two new commissions to oversee each of the departments. The commissions would each have five members: two appointed by the mayor (and confirmed by the Board of Supervisors), one appointed by the city controller (and confirmed by the Board of Supervisors) and two appointed by the Board of Supervisors. Currently, the director of the Department of Public Works reports to the city administrator, who reports to the mayor.
Prop. B seeks to address a confluence of two ongoing problems in San Francisco: dirty streets and corruption in the leadership of the Department of Public Works (DPW)1. By transferring the street and sanitation responsibilities of DPW to a new Department of Streets and Sanitation and requiring both agencies to report to newly created oversight commissions, the supervisors who placed this on the ballot hope to see a heightened focus on street cleanliness and agency transparency.
The Controller’s Office estimates that creating a new department would likely require hiring numerous staff to provide administrative support, resulting in an estimated cost of $2.5 million to $6 million each year once the agency is fully operational.2
The measure was placed on the ballot by the Board of Supervisors by a vote of seven to four. As a charter amendment, it requires a simple majority (50% plus one vote) to pass.
As the impact of Prop. B is generally unclear, it is also unclear whether it would have a disproportionate impact on any specific demographic group. To the extent that this measure would help achieve cleaner streets in the city, it would benefit all San Franciscans. However, the areas of the city that arguably suffer most from unsanitary street conditions are SoMa, the Tenderloin and the Mission (the measure co-sponsors have been clear in their focus on these districts). As such, the residents of these neighborhoods, which include a disproportionate number of low-income people, might benefit more than others from cleaner streets.
- Prop. B would allow the Board of Supervisors to make adjustments to some aspects of the charter amendment without having to put forward a new ballot measure.
- Restructuring a city department, as this measure proposes to do, is no guarantee that the department will improve its inadequate performance.
- While a commission might help provide some transparency and an opportunity for formal public input on the operations of DPW, past experience in San Francisco has shown that public commissions do not prevent corrupt officials from exploiting their positions and do not necessarily result in more streamlined operations.
- By creating a new city department, Prop. B would divert an estimated $2.5 million to $6 million annually toward new administrative costs. That money could instead be spent on initiatives to clean the streets or otherwise improve the operations of DPW.
- Prop. B would split the authority over the agencies between the mayor and supervisors via the new commissions, effectively reducing voters’ ability to hold the mayor accountable for DPW’s performance.
- This measure would place the people who design public buildings and infrastructure in a different agency from those who will maintain the facilities, which runs contrary to industry best practice for creating cost-efficient building operation.
Recent corruption and ongoing problems with dirty streets both highlight the need for reform at DPW. Rooting out corruption and improving efficiency in city departments are goals we share with Prop. B’s proponents, and the idea of establishing a commission to provide oversight (as most other city agencies have) is worth considering. But reform — even reform focused on something as pressing as cleaning up San Francisco’s streets — doesn’t require cleaving a new city department out of an existing one and divvying up accountability for this pressing problem among the mayor, 11 supervisors and the controller. The broader goals of this measure would be better achieved by the mayor and the Board of Supervisors placing a greater focus on management, performance and accountability than by creating a costly new city agency.
1Evan Sernoffsky and Dominic Fracassa, “Feds Charge SF Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru With Fraud,” San Francisco Chronicle, January 29, 2020, https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/SF-Public-Works-Director-Moh...
2Office of the Controller, Memo, July 10, 2020,