Downtown Sonora trash containers

Trash containers are lined up Wednesday morning behind businesses on South Green Street, on a side of the street with no sidewalk.

Doing business in downtown Sonora has always been challenging due to space limitations in front of and behind buildings on Washington Street and its parallel arteries — Stewart and Green streets — placing value on sidewalk space and parking spaces adjacent to and close to storefronts.

Many business owners and managers have improvised and worked with the city government over the past year-and-a-half of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to come up with creative solutions to continue to stay in business, with some succeeding so well they are now producing more trash.

Recent changes in fire code and other regulations, combined with existing space limitations and successful businesses generating extra trash, have come to a head in downtown Sonora, according to city staff, who briefed the elected City Council about the problem at a public meeting on Monday.

The city has received multiple complaints over the past several months about plastic wheeled trash bins and larger metal dumpsters on sidewalks and in public parking spaces in the downtown area, Rachelle Kellogg, the city’s community development director, said. 

Problems are most prevalent on Stewart and Green streets, Kellogg said. A city staff report addressing the issue included photos of trash bins and dumpsters on and close to sidewalks on Stewart Street. On Green Street, some trash bins and dumpsters are lined up on a side of the street that has no sidewalk.

The trash bins and dumpsters are at times “impacting accessibility along sidewalks and parking spaces as well as the aesthetics in the historic downtown area,” the city staff report says.

"It's starting to become a real issue and we're looking for solutions," Councilmember Jim Garaventa said in an interview Wednesday.

Some business owners appear to be doing the best they can with limited space outside their buildings. 

On Wednesday, some trash bins were lined up neatly on sidewalks along Stewart Street. Some businesses had folded cardboard boxes set out on sidewalks for pickup, while others using dumpsters had those larger containers in what appeared to be designated spaces off of sidewalks.

City staff have already met with Waste Management, the investor-owned corporation that offers local trash collection, waste disposal, and recycling services, to discuss the problem and any possible solutions. They have also spoken to business owners “to understand why this has become such an issue as historically trash was stored on private property.”

Variables the city government is looking at include the size of bins and dumpsters, the frequency of garbage pickup and the lack of adequate storage areas on private properties. 

What is apparent now, Kellogg told the council on Monday, is that “there is no easy resolve to this situation.”

“We have dumpsters on city sidewalks impeding ADA accessibility,” Mary Rose Rutikanga, the now-outgoing city administrator, said at the meeting Monday.

Rutikanga was referring to the Americans with Disabilities Act, which became law in 1990.

Waste Management is willing to work with the city on more trash pickups and smaller trash bins on Stewart Street, Kellogg said. The trash container issues have been occurring mainly behind and close to restaurants over the past five to six months.

Some of the restaurants in downtown Sonora simply do not have the space outside their businesses to store trash waiting to be picked up. At least one dumpster outside a downtown business is occupying a space designated as a red zone for no parking.

Kellogg said the trash bins and dumpsters are an issue outside a minimum of 10 businesses on Stewart Street, as well as seven to eight businesses on Green Street.

“We need to come up with some kind of policy,” she said.

“Obviously, having them on the sidewalk is unacceptable,” Garaventa said Monday evening.

A search of the city’s municipal code on Wednesday did not yield a current, specific code, rule, or law addressing trash containers outside businesses in downtown Sonora.

So far, city staff have come up with three options for the council to consider and provide staff direction:

•  Not allowing trash bins or dumpsters to be stored on public sidewalks or parking spaces.

• Allowing trash bins on sidewalks as long as a minimum of 3 feet of clearance can be maintained and there is no impact to ADA ramps.

• Working with Waste Management to establish centralized dumpster locations in the downtown area for businesses to dispose of their refuse. Thereafter, bins and dumpsters could be stored on public property.

Meanwhile, city staff welcome any other ideas or options from the council and the public. As ever with issues in downtown Sonora — a Gold Rush town first built in the late 1840s and early 1850s — pleasing everyone in the 21st century present will be a challenge.

“Somebody is not going to be happy, no matter what direction we go,” Kellogg said.

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.net or 770-0405. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.

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