A few weeks back, I met a quite remarkable man. Tommy Gallegos. His mission is to clean up his street and neighborhood. I had read one of his posts to the Portola Yahoo group, where he described what he’d done so far. His list was impressive. First, because he was sick of seeing plastic bags and paper littering his streets, Tommy bought his own trash cans from Craigslist. He put them out on Silver Avenue and emptied them himself. Then he decided to actually clean the streets himself. Every day armed with a large bag and litter claw, Tommy takes a walk down Silver and bags the mess, calling 311 to come and collect it. Soon he started painting his own street signs and cleaning the windows of the local store.
Not quite believing one man could be so bold, I headed down to his part of town to meet someone who is destined for Portola legend.
Before I even got to his house, the effects of his efforts became clear. Without actually looking, I noticed how much cleaner Silver Avenue was. The lack of paper and plastic peppering the sidewalk was evident to the casual driver. I parked, met Tommy and he immediately took me on a tour. Walking down Silver he showed me the two new city trash cans that had only just been placed on the street. After Tommy called the Department of Public Works so many times, they decided to replace his personally funded cans with proper city material (which Tommy is pictured standing on above).
Tommy’s passion and ambition is strong and the effects are very visible. He highlights a fire alarm box (pictured) on the side of the road, which had a few centuries of paint plastered all over it, much of it chipped and falling away. Tommy points out, as citizens of San Francisco, we pay for union quality work via our taxes, which clearly had not been applied to this piece of street equipment. He plans to grind away all the paint and do it properly… for free. The way he tells me this, I actually feel excited and I find myself looking forward to coming back and seeing his recreation.
While Tommy does seem a little more obsessed than most of us, I noticed that in his little area of the Portola, he has really made a difference. He cares very much and I felt honored to have lunch with him and listen to his ideas. So I had one myself. Why can’t we all be a little bit like Tommy? What is the essence of his approach and how is he finding the time to do these things? (He has a wife, two children and a job to put first).
That line of thinking led Tommy to distill his cleanliness campaign into a simple set of advise. A few “tips” we can all follow and hopefully improve the condition of our own streets. Tommy’s Tips we are going to call them and over the coming months there will be a series of articles here on the Portola Planet, which go into some simple ways to keep your neighborhood clean. Cities are often messy, cluttered and dirty places to live. But it doesn’t have to be that way. With a caring community the Portola can be one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in San Francisco. So in his own words, I’ll let Tommy give you an idea of what we will be hearing from him soon.
Take a good look at your yard, the sidewalk, your driveway, the street in front of your house, then look to your left and right, up the street and back down. What do you see? In most neighborhoods you will see bits of paper and debris that has either been dropped off or has been blown to your street. There is a way to stop this creep of garbage, it is all over the city, not just your neighborhood. While driving or walking anywhere in this city, watch and count how many times you see people throw garbage on the ground. This will open your eyes to a pervasive problem. I think one of the ways to fix this, is to be aware of it and making your little corner clean. Put on a pair of gloves, go out to your street and sidewalk and pick up the “stuff”. The cans, the pieces of newspaper, paper, wrappers; put it in a bag and deposit into your garbage can. Do this regularly, and when you walk out of your house and see the clean area in front of your house, you will feel good about yourself and what you have accomplished. Open your eyes to all the places you usually ignore because of the blight.
Tommy Gallegos, April 2012