SARAH BROTHERS | Downtown Partnership
Regular readers of this column are likely familiar with the Downtown San Diego Partnership Clean & Safe program and the impact its teams of dedicated homeless outreach providers, maintenance and safety ambassadors, and placemaking staff have on Downtown’s quality of life. They can be seen hard at work seven days a week, day and night making sure Downtown stays clean and safe. But there are still many who are surprised to learn about the incredible benefits they enjoy within the 275 blocks of the Property and Business Improvement District that defines Clean & Safe’s jurisdiction.
“To this day, I still run into neighbors who are shocked to learn their sidewalk trash collection, neighborhood murals and safety patrols are available because of Clean & Safe. They have no idea they are conducted by a separate nonprofit entity above and beyond what is otherwise available through the City or County specifically for the benefit of Downtown,” said Bill Sauls, former chair of the Downtown Partnership board and advocate for the start of the Clean & Safe program.
For many, it’s hard to imagine Downtown without Clean & Safe. In celebration of its recent 20-year anniversary, we decided to talk to those who were there at the beginning of it all.
Before the creation of Clean & Safe, Downtown was served by a Maintenance Assessment District that provided a select number of services in limited portions of Downtown. Downtown advocates at the time also found that other maintenance programs available weren’t fitting the bill since their ability to respond was designed for a suburban environment, not the needs of Downtown’s urban landscape.
“There was a need to expand the scope of services like trash pickup and sidewalk cleaning that were partially available in the MAD throughout all the neighborhoods, create other services like a safety program since that didn’t yet exist in Downtown, and do it all through an organization that could really focus on Downtown and the unique needs of each neighborhood,” said Sauls.
After review of similar programs in cities throughout the country, it was determined that a PBID – later to be named Clean & Safe – with the Downtown Partnership as the nonprofit managing organization was the best fit. With more than a year of outreach completed to assess the needs and design for the program, Clean & Safe went to the ballot and was enthusiastically approved by voters in every single neighborhood, as it has at each renewal vote since.
But that doesn’t mean the Clean & Safe team has been resting on their laurels. Those 20 years have seen huge strides in work completed and the scope and scale of Clean & Safe’s contribution to the quality of life in Downtown.
“When I started with the Clean & Safe team in August of 2001, Downtown was totally different,” said Juan N., lead landscaper for the Clean & Safe program and one of the program’s longest-tenured employees. “At the beginning, it was a lot of maintenance of existing trees and medians. Now we get to implement new creative beautification projects from start to finish.”
In addition to new landscaping projects like installing corner planters, the Clean & Safe program is now responsible for placemaking efforts like eye-catching murals, lighting and creative parklettes. A homeless outreach team has also been brought on board to address the needs of Downtown’s unsheltered population. Even as recently as this year, an overnight safety patrol has been added as an extra set of eyes and ears for Downtown’s neighborhoods.
“Residents, business owners and property owners can have confidence in Downtown because of the best practices, continuous improvement and recognized excellence that the Downtown Partnership Clean & Safe team brings to the responsibility of serving Downtown’s neighborhoods,” said Betsy Brennan, President & CEO of the Downtown Partnership. “We can’t wait to see what they will accomplish to keep Downtown thriving in the next 20 years.”
20 years may seem like a long time to be making a difference, but when asked what he liked best about his long career with Clean & Safe, Juan showed that for some public service comes easily.
He responded, “I always like to hear from people walking by that they appreciate our work and think the project we’re doing is beautiful – whether it be new hanging planters or sustainable landscaping. What they don’t know is that when you like your job like I do, it’s easy to always do your best. It feels good.”
— Sarah Brothers is the Director of Marketing & Communications at Downtown San Diego Partnership.