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Making Downtown Shine

By Jorge Casuso

August 20, 2009 -- When Bayside Director of Operations Andrew Thomas walks the Downtown streets, he sees things most people miss.

Like the small black ring staining the sidewalk. “Gum is tricky,” Thomas says. “Even after you blast it off, the gum leaves a black ring. We need repeated power washing just to remove the rings.”

Or that cigarette butt on the ground next to a trash bin. “Some people will put out a cigarette on a trash can and then throw the butt on the ground,” he says. “These are on-going challenges we have struggled to keep up with until now.”

Thomas, who’s in charge of making sure the Downtown remains clean and inviting, has been looking forward to the extra help that kicked in this month to boost the City’s maintenance efforts in Downtown with an extra $1.2 million from the new Property Based Assessment District.

Managed by a new 13-member board, the assessment district pumps an additional $3.6 million in new annual assessments to boost maintenance, enhance marketing efforts and create an “ambassador program” to inform visitors and help keep the streets safe.

The enhanced maintenance budget will allow power-washing crews to clean a larger area more often and will deploy a special team to help keep the parking structures clean, Bayside officials said. Under the new maintenance plan, the City is now in charge of cleaning between 5th and 7th streets.

“We’ve created a comprehensive maintenance strategy for the Downtown by pooling resources with the City,” Thomas says. “The new assessments have given both Bayside and the City the ability to expand our combined reach and truly make a difference.”

The company H20 Power Wash & Steam, Inc., which has been cleaning the Downtown area on a limited basis for a decade, will add between eight and 12 workers deployed in Downtown most days of the week, Thomas says.

Using steaming water at 400 degrees, the power washing removes “beverage stains, gum, fluids and other stains in general,” according to Bayside officials.

The steaming water – which is gathered and reused – should remove the thousands of black gum stains that have been pounded into the pavement over the decades.

“They’re on the sidewalks, in the alleys, on the crosswalks, at the intersections, and they’re really hard to get out,” Thomas says. “At 400 degrees, gum will evaporate. It’s impossible to restore an older sidewalk to its original finish, but you can make it clean and gum and stain-free.”

Power washing also should remove the stains left behind by a dropped cup of juice or coffee or by an oozing garbage bag dragged through an alley.

“The stains are unsightly,” Thomas says. “People dragging bags of trash through the alleys leave a trail of grease that leads from their restaurants to the bin room.”

Scott Jensen, the owner of H2O, says it will take a few months to notice a big difference, since his company’s quarterly power washing in Downtown was halted while a new contract was negotiated with Bayside and City officials.

“We haven’t been Downtown in about six months, so we’ve had a little lapse time,” says Jensen. “Once we get the first cleaning under our belt, it will be easier. After the first couple of cleanings, it should be Disneyland clean.”

The larger crew will power wash the entire Third Street Promenade and the 2nd and 3rd Court alleys once a month, instead of every three months, and the rest of the area between Ocean and 4th Court every two months, Thomas says.

In addition, the Promenade will be cleaned “from property line to property line,” Thomas says. The dinosaur fountains also will be power washed, including the inside of the pools. Areas of need, or “hot spots,” as Thomas calls them, will be addressed as needed within 24 hours.

The crews will also tackle the parking structures, which have long been the source of complaints.

Until last month, the City was in charge of maintenance for the six public parking structures that flank the Third Street Promenade and the two structures north of Wilshire Boulevard. Under the new plan, City crews will shift their focus to the eastern part of the district, where nearly 1,000 residential units now line 5th, 6th and 7th streets.

“There is room for improvement in the structures,” Thomas says, pointing to the carbon build-up around the edges of the inside walls and the black tire tracks on the lanes.

Under the new contract, H2O’s crews will power wash the surface areas of the eight structures, including all vehicle lanes, parking spaces, stairwells, lobbies and landing areas once a year to remove all gums and stains.

The crews also will regularly scrub, sweep and degrease the vehicle lanes and stalls every ten weeks to remove all oil, soot and dust, and provide monthly pressure washing in the stairwells, elevator landings, and structure lobbies.

“The parking structures are often the first place visitors, residents, property owners, and business owners and employees experience when they visit Downtown,” Bayside officials wrote in their request for proposals.

“It is imperative that these structures provide a positive ‘first impression’ on our visitors, and a clean, safe and inviting experience for return users.”

In addition, Block by Block, the company managing the Bayside Ambassador Program, also is helping keep the Downtown clean, with a maintenance team of 11 workers who help clean the eight public parking structures.

The crews sweep up debris with a broom and a dustpan, clean the restrooms and stock them with toilet paper and seat covers, mop down the landings, wipe the railings and empty and deodorize the trash bins.

“Hopefully by August 1, they’ll look pristine,” says Steve Brookes, the operations manager for the new Downtown Ambassador and Maintenance Program.

In addition, the two dozen new hospitality ambassadors are pitching in to help keep the Downtown streets tidy. As he walks the Promenade on a sunny weekday afternoon, Brookes picks up a business card someone has tossed away and peels a sticker from a light pole.

“They write their name on stickers and put them up on light poles,” says Brookes.
The maintenance crews must comply with Santa Monica’s Green guidelines. To ensure environmental “Zero Discharge” compliance, all wastewater must be reclaimed and the list of chemicals and cleaning agents must be approved by the City’s Office of Sustainability and Environment.

Thomas is optimistic all the extra cleaning will make the Downtown shine.
“We can’t kid ourselves and think it’s going to look brand new, because the infrastructure is old,” Thomas says. “But I can’t wait to see how much it can really shine.”




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