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Bring the Claw Back

Diminished yard waste pick up proves woefully inadequate

By Colin Walsh

Fallen palm fronds dwarf the organic carts the City has provided to put them in North Davis.

This past August while many were away on vacation the Davis City Council voted to greatly diminish street yard waste pick up that many refer to as "The Claw." For decades yard waste pick up had been routine with The Claw visiting neighborhoods weekly. But over the last few years the City has slowly reduced the service. This last reduction has certainly gone too far.

Arguments made for reduction included cost savings for the City, bicycle safety, and improved general City appearances.

The savings were not fully realized because Recology ended up charging a lot more than expected. As the August 13th report to the City Council states, "The reasoning for the higher rate is the potential that the same volume of material may be collected (occurring during alternate weeks as opposed to every week) and the landfill fees for the volume totals make up the bulk of the per unit rate. In addition, labor costs associated with the pick-ups are anticipated to be higher as it will likely take longer to pick up in one week the same amount of material previously set out over two weeks."

In the last 2 weeks we have now seen that the bicycle safety and appearance goals have not only not been met, the situation has gotten considerably worse. There was a significant windstorm on Sunday 10/27 that left large amounts of debris in yards and on the street. Homeowners fairly quickly responded by pulling the debris into the street in violation of the City's new rules. Under our old Claw schedule pick up would have begun immediately. Under the new schedule debris sat in the streets for much longer. In many places it may be more than 2 weeks.

Informal reports from around the City indicate it is likely The Claw is well behind schedule and yard waste piles are still sitting out in neighborhoods where it was already due for pick up.

What follows is an unscientific photo essay from around town showing some of the problems.

J street
Tree timings and fallen limbs block the southbound bike lane on J street. This creates a hazard causing bicycles to have to ride in the street to circumnavigate the pile. Under the old schedule the Claw would be by more quickly to remove the hazard.
Yard waste strewn across the bike lane creating a cycling hazard in front of the Yolo County Library.
Eight 2
Trimmings force a cyclist into the roadway on F street.
No bin 2
Leaves and limbs far too large to fit in a bin create a hazard in Central Davis.
South 7
On Cowell huge piles blocked the bike path for over a week because the claw visits the neighborhood less under the new plan.
South 6
Another biking hazard in South Davis.
West Davis
Piles like this one in West Davis have lingered in the street far longer under the new schedule leaving the biking hazards in our community for far to long.
Old East
In Old East, piles are jammed between cars and protrude well into the street creating a hazard for bikes and cars alike. Under the new diminished pick up schedule these piles have been left there far longer than before.
No Bin
Another huge pile that would take at least 5 organic carts to dispose of.
N Parking 2
In old North piles were stacked in permit parking spots up and down the streets greatly diminishing available parking for the neighborhood.
N parking 1
In old North residents pay the City for parking permits to allow them to park in the N spaces, but the new claw schedule has left the spaces unusable for extended periods.
G Street
In old North the piles often dwarf the organic carts the waste is supposed to fit in and have blocked parking spaces for over a week.
Wood pile
Some houses tried to obey City rules and not put the yard waste in the street. But I do have to wonder if this starts to create fire hazards scattered throughout the City.

CityFinally here is the new City schedule. Notice that there is no street pick up at all for March, April, June, July, August and September. The worst of yard waste and debris lingering in our streets is yet to come. During peak season there is pick up only every other week, so if a windstorm (as is common in Davis) happens in an off week the resulting yard waste and debris will linger for extended periods every time. 

Organic carts are still picked up every week, but for many homes with yards the cart are inadequate. Personally I find the cart practically useless because I compost small clippings and lawn trimmings onsite, leaving only bulkier items that don't fit well in carts for pick up.

This new diminished schedule has clearly gone too far, and isn't even realizing the savings the Council sought and it leaves hazards in our bike lanes and roadways. It is time for the City Council to admit they have made a miscalculation and restore more robust claw service. 

You can write the city Council at to ask them to bring back the claw. 





Todd Edelman

Bringing back The Claw in the way you seem to suggest will only ensure that a continuous amount of debris is in the street, blocking paths for people on bikes (and everyone else). Leaving aside all the bad reasons to leave lawn and tree debris in the public right-of-way, probably the only thing missing here is that the City and Recology don't have a contingency plan for extreme wind events. There's no reason to return to the old way of doing things, which was worse for cyclists than the new regular plan.

But also a question: Do I have the naive misunderstanding that all or some of the lawn and tree bits from our homes picked up Recology goes to landfill rather than industrial compost?

ron glick

Bring back the claw! Thank you for raising this issue Colin. This is going to be a huge issue by next November. If Will runs against Brett Will will crush Brett on this issue. If Will doesn't run someone needs to step into the void.

Donna Lemongello

Whoa, does this stuff actually go to landfill? As did Todd, I thought it was composted.
As for the claw, the wind events were not the norm and the people putting the stuff by the curb should have done a better job. Some people of course are not physically able to cut stuff up into pieces of appropriate size so that's an issue too.

Alan Pryor

All of the greenwaste picked up from the Claw or in Green waste bins is composted and given free to homeowners at certain times of the year or otherwise sold commercially. No green waste is ever sent to the landfill.

Josh P.

I agree with Todd. If the main concern is making the bike lanes are unimpeded (which I think it should be), it seems to me the simpler solution is to end of the use of the Claw altogether, and have all compostable waste go in the green bin.

Eileen Samitz

Thanks for this excellent article and the photo montage of how decreasing the claw schedule has been a terrible decision by the City. I attended the workshop for community input regarding the claw earlier in the year. This workshop had a great turnout of residents and the super-majority of people attending gave overwhelming input to not to diminish the claws schedule, but in fact to increase it. However, the schedule was decreased anyway.

This issue has angered and frustrated an an enormous number of Davis residents with trees and other beneficial plants on their property because diminishing the use of the claw is counter-productive in so many ways.

Less claw pick up not only increases the amount of tree and landscape debris to be picked up on the street because in most cases all of the landscaping debris simply does not all fit in the yard bins we have been given.
In fall season, in particular, because our City is blessed with a massive urban forest, the tree canopies shed massive amounts of leaves. So removing the claw to do the massive leaf pick up needed 1) just increases (not decreases) the danger to bicyclists due to the overage winding up in the street, and 2) it winds up encouraging property owners to remove trees and otehr foliage out of sheer frustration that the City is not providing the support system needed to remove the yard debris when needed on a logical and effective schedule.

So Todd, you may be naive on this subject because perhaps you don't need to do much or any yard work where you live, but I don't agree with you on your assumption stated above.

Another fallout from diminishing the scheduled pick ups of yard debris by the claw also winds up contributing to global warming essentially since one unintended consequences is that frustrated property owners with mature trees will wind up taking trees down which would reducing our City's tree canopy which is needed for shade in our hot summers and the other benefits that trees help out planet with like removing CO2 out of the atmosphere.

So, love our trees and foliage by bringing back the claw and increasing, not decreasing its schedule.

Greg Rowe

Although the photos depict the results of a periodic high wind event, I've observed in our neighborhood that residents and landscapers/gardeners put leaves, grass clippings, limbs, etc., out at the curb year-round, regardless of the pickup schedule. In some cases the piles are present for many weeks, and just grow bigger. This happens even if the home has a large organic bin and even when the landscaper has a large trailer that could be used to haul away the material.

It appears that the pickup schedules distributed by the City go unheeded by many residents. And, many of the landscaper/gardeners may be totally unaware of the schedule. I suspect some of them are unlicensed, so don't know the City rules and schedule. I don't know what the answer is, but the photos make it evident that something currently is not working.

Coln Walsh

First to deal with Todd's misinformation:

1) Lawn timings are not allowed in the street and have not been for quite sometime. There is nothing wrong with the current policy banning lawn clippings because lawn timings are extremely easy to compost onsite, or fit in the organics cart. What we are talking about is bulkier organic matter from trees and shrubs. Just look at the pictures in the article! No lawn clippings.

2) As Alan points out above, all of the yard waste is composted. Far better that the organic matter from yards is picked up in the street and composted than having it shoved in the trash bin that does go to the landfill because there was not enough room in the organic cart, and street pick up was no longer allowed.

Ron O

I strongly suspect that those who suggest that all excess yard trimmings will fit into the carts have no yards, or small yards without many trees/shrubs. It's as if they don't understand (or don't care about) the amount of material that's generated, or how it's disposed of. As long as the waste doesn't affect them personally - even one iota! It's essentially a self-centered point of view.

Davis needs more trees, not less. Especially as the climate continues to warm.

Bring back the claw.

Gilbert Coville

Informal reports from around the City indicate it is likely The Claw is well behind schedule and yard waste piles are still sitting out in neighborhoods where it was already due for pick up.

I can confirm. Our scheduled pickup day was supposed to be Wednesday this week. The pickup finally happened this morning (Friday).

The "wind event" was well over a week ago, so the backlog shouldn't be attributed to that. There is some other problem occurring.

Perhaps it has to do with the fact that this particular schedule was created ON THE DAIS during that city council meeting with no analysis from Recology about its feasibility.

Todd Edelman

Colin, I realize that grass cuttings are not fed to the Claw, because while the Claw appreciates that the material is locally-grown, it prefers its light greens to be certified organic. We all know that "compost" means that the leaves and branches are fed to the little hungry children of the Claw and her husband Santa Claws who hungrily growl starting in the late summer, hoping for a bit of tree and eager for a life of new contracts after their parents pass away. Sadly for them, culture and state requirements on water quality may lead things in a different direction.

Eileen, do you have evidence of multiple healthy tree removals due solely to the hassle of leaf pick up and tree trimming or e.g. testimonies from homeowners that they will rip their trees out if Claw-ism is defeated in Davis?

Full transparency: I made the motion at the BTSSC meeting in January of this year recommending a concentrated schedule and eventual phase out of yard material on-street collection - it was passed unanimously by the Commission

Roberta L. Millstein

I just want to respond to a couple of points raised above.

This wind event may have been stronger than most, but big wind events large enough to blow massive amounts of leaves off the trees as well as large branches occur pretty much every fall.

And when they do, a lot of stuff is in the street, including big branches. No one has to put it in the street. The City needs to plan for this. The current schedule is inadequate.

Even ordinary wind produces debris in the street this time of year. Again, this needs to be addressed.

James Benya

Now Recology has missed two dates in a row. I'm going to keep piling the yard waste and trimmings (we don't have grass) in the street and I will start sending photos to city council. What a train wreck.

Colin Walsh

Todd, did you consult with the Tree commission before making your motion to end claw service? I mean, the easiest way to get rid of the need for the claw is to just cut down all of the vegetation and forbid the planting of trees. The reality is, if we want to have a City that enjoys the benefit of trees and other vegetation, there will be yard waste to contend with. Simply ending the service that addresses this will inevitably lead to problems. Just look around the City tonight and you will see what the diminished schedule you proposed has done to the City. It is frankly a terrible thing you did, although I 100% believe you had good intentions when you did so.


I think it is more efficient and green to have the claw make the rounds to the landfill to compost rather than several hundred plus cars making separate loads to Woodland to dispose of it. I Always fill my green waste bin first but almost always have extra from my neighbors trees that will not fit. Does the city really want us to start filling our trash bin with the excess green waste?
A plan needs to be in place for excess leaves on high wind days.
The city sent out a message stating we were allowed to put green waste in the street after this last storm which was great.
The city also has to take into consideration our current population of students. We are encouraging them to not have vehicles and that we are a bike community. Are they supposed to put a pile of leaves and branches on their bikes and get them to woodland to dispose of the leaves. Our student population are in houses as well as apartments. If we don’t make it easy for them to take care of their yards, the yards will not be taken care of!

Bob Milbrodt

I’m fed up with the bicycle or pedestrian safety canard. A garbage can, a parked car, a pile of debris at the side of the street is not a safety issue for a competent pedestrian or bicyclist. If someone is unable to negotiate such obstacles in the streets, then they should not be walking or riding a bicycle. The real danger to bicyclists is the explosion of drivers paying more attention to their cell phones than to others on the road. This is just not a valid argument against the claw.

Ron Glick

The backlog of removal could be that there is so much material built up that the truck is filling too fast and the trips to empty it are eating up much of the work time.

As for this being an unusual weather event we can discount this event and look at past results to predict future events. We went around seven weeks without pickup from September 1 to October 21. If you looked around my neighborhood around the third week of October before pick up there was stuff piled up everywhere. Now imagine next year when there is no pickup scheduled from May until October. I'm predicting that there is going to be a backlash that hits right when the next CC election heats up. I believe that in some districts like the one I live in this is going to be a big issue in the next CC election and that Brett Lee is on the wrong side of the homeowners on this one.

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