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It’s time to re-evaluate Waltham’s leaf-vacuuming program

Pictures taken today Dec 3rd, 2013
Pictures taken today Dec 3rd, 2013

As this fall’s program comes to an end on Friday, we really need to take a hard look at whether it is still working well for our entire city. I keep wondering what is going to happen to all those forgotten piles of leaves that are all over my neighborhood on the South Side of Waltham.

As you may know, the leaf-vacuuming program has been in place for many years. But within the last few years, it was decided that each section of the city is only vacuumed ONCE during a designed week -following a schedule set by the Consolidated Public Works department.

The South Side of Waltham’s week was Nov 4th - Nov 8th. If you’ve lived in Massachusetts for even a few years, you know that in the first week of November, most of the leaves are still on the trees. Not on the ground!

Wouldn’t it make more sense to wait a week or two to start vacuuming? And if the five trucks that we have assigned to this program are not enough to cover a city of 60,000 residents then maybe it’s time to invest in more equipment?

Let me just say that this is a great service and one that not too many cities provide. But if we’re going to pay for it with our taxes, let’s make sure that the service is the best it can be.

Another way we can get vacuuming done right is by communicating better with the homeowners.  I know that social media announcements are a little too much to ask for now, so why don’t we keep it old school and very simple by just putting up posters on light poles. This is done to inform residents of street-sweeping days and is very effective.

So, going back to my original question: What is going to happen to all those leftover piles of leaves you see all over the South Side? I really don’t know but I hope something happens very soon or they could become public hazards.

If we don’t get rid of these leaves they can become a fire hazard if a car with a hot catalytic converter parks on top of it.

And as the winter descends upon us, the piles may clog up our rain gutters. If we have another powerful winter like last year, I can only imagine the piles of snow on top of piles of leaves. That makes removal more difficult and icy, hazardous puddles on our roads more likely.

As a city, Waltham needs to better plan and be ahead on issues that affect our residents’ daily lives. We all live in different areas of the city and our municipal employees and our elected officials need to see the difference.

Carlos Vidal

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Guy FromWaltham December 04, 2013 at 06:42 PM
CPW is under staffed. Once leaves start, no other project in the city gets completed. As guys have retired they have never been replaced. Granted, maybe CPW needed to downsize a bit, it does not need to be crippled. The mayor and her in ability to budget appropriate personnel is the problem. She fails to listen to department heads as to their needs and does what she wants. Start with the corner office. She will lie anyway. When the CPW director told the city of the snow plowing issues, the mayor said what she would do, not what the CPW director recommended or needed! Wake up Waltham.
jeanette curnyn December 05, 2013 at 08:33 AM
The leaves on our trees are usually still green on the day of collection! We rake them into our compost pile.
Prometheus December 05, 2013 at 08:36 AM
Jeanette....I am proud that you at least are able to battle and win your war against the leaves.
Carlos Vidal December 05, 2013 at 08:44 AM
Steelhorse - What street on the south side do you live on? If they picked up on your street yesterday then maybe they will come back to my street today.
andipandi December 05, 2013 at 04:55 PM
Today they were out in our neighborhood picking up leaves with a backhoe and dumptruck. If we can only afford one pickup, it should be rotated annually so the same people aren't either getting no leaves vaccumed (first week pickup) or stuck looking at piles of leaves for two months (last week pickup).
CKing December 05, 2013 at 06:43 PM
I don't see why people can't just bag them? I have never pushed the leaves onto the street/sidewalk. South St is pretty much a mess right now. When the leaves are wet they make the sidewalks slippery. The large piles are also collecting all sorts of trash that makes my dog happy but me pissed!
Tim H December 05, 2013 at 08:35 PM
Even when leaves are bagged, I believe there needs to be a separate pickup for leaves versus trash. I'm not sure which is more cost beneficial bagging or vacuuming. The only advantage I see with bagging is that they won't blow back into the yard.
Frosty the Snowman December 05, 2013 at 11:16 PM
CKing many homes in Waltham could fill dozens and dozens of bags, many houses in Waltham have multiple trees. It's much easier and cheaper to blow them to the curb, then it is to waste more trees making bags and fill them.
Prometheus December 06, 2013 at 07:25 AM
What will you all do when some real issue arises?
SteelHorse December 06, 2013 at 07:30 AM
I'm not sure Carlos has blogged about a real issue yet. It's mostly about snow plowing, leaves, and some version of soccer he wants forced down our throats. You know, real important issues of our city.
Jim Walker December 06, 2013 at 08:56 AM
Improving flawed city services, bettering communications with residents and an innovative idea for re-vitalization of a city park - all things that touch people's daily lives (and their tax money), their enjoyment of the city, and our attractiveness to new residents and businesses. Sound like "real important issues" that to me. But the floor is open as they say ...
SteelHorse December 06, 2013 at 09:32 AM
Jim, campaigns over. Back to the drawing board.
Frosty the Snowman December 06, 2013 at 02:55 PM
@Jim Walker ever think that people don't want more businesses? The huge push to turn Waltham into Somerville essentially is not wanted by most. Most Waltham voters are not hipsters looking for a cool shop to buy handmade goods and get a $7 coffee. People bellyache about the City Council delaying projects, but maybe that's how people want it. Breezers don't win elections. I personally voted for Carlos and suggested to family and friends to do the same, he was the one new voice I wanted, I hope he keeps writing blogs and runs again, but realize Waltham is more than Moody St and Main. Good Luck.
Marshall Ottina December 06, 2013 at 03:47 PM
Frosty, would you rather have Somerville or Detroit? The number of unfinished projects and shuttered businesses is growing. The first stretch of Moody St from the train tracks up to the Skellig is downright depressing. Having spent a number of years working in the revitalized Inman Square, I would take that in a heartbeat.
Prometheus December 06, 2013 at 03:57 PM
You are failing because you cannot even handle LEAVES....to try and tackle something else is beyond your scope. Detroit is fast approaching and their is little you can do.
Frosty the Snowman December 07, 2013 at 05:47 AM
@Marshall, Detroit? Really? When Polaroid and Raytheon closed up shop that was a real worry. Restaurants don't employ 100s of people, they employ dozens. Moody St. was an absolute dump for years. Then it was restaurant row, and the breezers (Somerville wannabes) showed up. I remember when Grover Cronin's was boarded up, when the bars were mostly dives. The rest of Waltham did just fine, I did not see riots or looting. Let's face it folks Waltham may be known for Moody St. but it's voter base and people who live here can live without it.
Marshall Ottina December 07, 2013 at 07:53 AM
Obviously Waltham will never have many of the problems Detroit has, I'm just referring to the amount of vacant commercial properties throughout the city. You say we can live without it, but we need more businesses to fill those spaces and bring some more revenue into this city. Having them sit unoccupied does no one any good.
SteelHorse December 07, 2013 at 08:01 AM
So what is the solution to empty storefronts ? Particularly on Main st.
Marshall Ottina December 07, 2013 at 09:54 AM
For starters, I'd like to see the city ease off on restrictions. Allowing the council to determine each business proposal on a case by case basis is asinine.
Robert G. Logan December 08, 2013 at 08:01 PM
Marshall - Where did you here that the City Council "determines each businesses proposal"???
Marshall Ottina December 08, 2013 at 08:21 PM
Remember this one, Councilor? http://www.wickedlocal.com/waltham/news/business/x1626870990/Wings-Over-Waltham-proposal-grounded-by-councilors#axzz252oy6sIL
Robert G. Logan December 08, 2013 at 08:35 PM
That's one. "Each" implies all. Fact is, most business uses can locate "by right" without ever coming before the City Council. Only the most problematic uses, such as fast food and drive-throughs need a use special permit. BTW - The section of Moody Street you mentioned is mostly comprised of the Moody Street Bridge and the building at 200 Moody, which is slated to be demolished and replaced with an attractive mixed use development.
Marshall Ottina December 08, 2013 at 08:41 PM
Proposed in April of 2010, and approved in August of 2013. With any luck, we'll break ground in 2016. And how are drive-thrus and fast food determined as problematic? And how many business proposals never even see the light of day due to zoning restrictions? Obviously I'd rather see a small local business than another Dominos or McDonalds, but all these empty spaces are doing nothing for our city.
Robert G. Logan December 08, 2013 at 08:59 PM
I will answer your questions in order. (1) 200 Moody Street was held up due to legal issues surrounding an old easement that was discovered on the property. (2) It is generally accepted land use practice to more highly regulate fast food and drive-throughs. Most cities and towns have some such regulations. Fast food establishments typically generate more noise, trash, and traffic than any other use - even a convenience store. (3) As for your last question, you tell me. Do you have any facts to indicate that this is a problem? Which "zoning restrictions" are you referring to? Which ones should we do away with?
Marshall Ottina December 08, 2013 at 09:24 PM
In your blog post from October 26th, you mentioned two zoning amendments that you proposed. One to allow restaurants designated as "fast food" to try to open downtown, with each proposal considered by the council on a case by case basis. While you stated that your intention was to attract small businesses that get mislabeled as fast food, I can't help but think that the costs of bringing a proposal like that before the council could be prohibitive for many small businesses. Having spent ten years in the restaurant industry, I can tell you that opening a restaurant is a massive financial undertaking. Most restaurants fold before they have a chance, and even many successful ones can operate in the red for almost three years before they see a profit. Another layer of red tape before opening would scare many potential restaurateurs out of town. Second, you proposed a change allowing bakeries without any additional permits. I have not heard any update on this. Thank you for taking the time to respond, Councilor.
Robert G. Logan December 08, 2013 at 09:33 PM
Marshall - My proposal to allow fast-food to be considered in the Business C Zoning District (core downtown) would actually represent a loosening of current zoning restrictions which now ban such uses outright in the downtown. My proposal to allow bakeries "by right" received a "First Reading" (initial approval) the other night and should be approved at the next meeting. I have also introduced an amendment to allow "delicatessens" by right, which looks like it will also pass. I have also introduced an amendment, at the request of the Downtown Waltham Partnership, to allow projecting signs to give business on the street better visibility.
Marshall Ottina December 08, 2013 at 09:44 PM
Getting back to my initial point (finally), I guess my question is if that ban is lifted, how will each case be determined?
Dennis December 14, 2013 at 10:47 AM
The guys who do the vacuuming don't care if they do a good job. They're very inconsistent, some times they do it right, some times they just "phone it in". This year they took my neatly raked pile, that I worked hard all Fall to maintain, and just shredded it and sprayed it all over my street, my car and my yard. I don't know how they could drive away from that thinking they did their job. I couldn't even clean up after them because it rained, then it froze, then it snowed. Now the shredded-leaf coated road will probably be a sheet of ice all winter. Great work, guys.
Tim H December 14, 2013 at 11:25 AM
@Dennis that sounds frustrating. I saw someone mention compost, but I don't believe anyone mentioned mulching. Adding a mulching attachment to a lawn mower can save you the hassle of leaf disposal -- the leaf fragments remain on the lawn. These will decompose and fertilize your lawn for next year. This works as long as you don't have to many leaves. It might be good for the last batch of leaves in the season assuming it takes multiple passes to get all the leaves.
andipandi December 16, 2013 at 12:05 PM
Way too many leaves to mulch, Tim. Dennis, I suspect your leaf pile was picked up not by the vacuum, but by the guys with the front loader and dump truck who toured my neighborhood. I don't want to come down on them too hard, as they were obviously rushing to get to everyone before the Tuesday snow... but the front loader left leaves all over, gouges in people's lawns, etc. In some cases they just pushed leaf piles off the street into the bushes. We saw the vacuum truck come by last sunday to do a little followup, props for that, but there's much they missed.

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