A year ago, the city of Santa Fe touted a 10-point corrective action plan that officials said would resolve the perennial problem of weedy traffic medians “once and for all.”
While the city made progress, reducing the number of complaints about weeds, the plan didn’t anticipate a pandemic — and residents are once again seeing streets being inundated with pesky weeds.
“The progress that we’ve made over the last couple of years where you saw median and weeds complaints go way, way down … we’re seeing that creep up again, unfortunately, and that’s really just due to staffing,” Parks and Recreation Director John Muñoz said Monday.
Blame the coronavirus and its resulting economic downturn, which prompted the city to let go of temporary workers assigned to weed control, as well as contractors to augment their efforts.
The city had as many as 19 people cleaning medians at one point. Now there are six, Muñoz said.
“We feel the pain with the residents because we’re driving down those same roads as well, and my guys take total pride in what they do,” he said. “When they hear about the complaints or the concerns, it obviously affects them. They don’t take it lightly.”
Kristine Mihelcic, the city’s constituent and council services director, said in an email the city doesn’t use pesticides, which she called the “right choice for our community” but one that “significantly limits our ability to control the weeds around the city.”
“Additionally,” she wrote, “COVID-19 has disrupted our operations over the past few months, and our teams have been working hard to maintain essential services despite ongoing furloughs, layoffs and frozen positions.”
Mihelcic said employees who work in facilities that were closed because of the pandemic were moved to assist parks crews on medians.
“Collaboration, teamwork, and leveraging limited resources is our focus in many areas and is an essential element of our proposed [reorganization] that will allow us to ensure the city’s resources are used as efficiently and effectively as possible,” she said.
The proposed reorganization, which the governing body will consider during a public hearing Aug. 23, calls for a split of the Parks and Recreation Department. A proposed Parks Division would be moved into the Public Works Department, and recreation would be folded into a new Community Development Department under the mayor’s proposal. The possible split of the Parks and Recreation Department has generated the most questions and concerns from council members during budget hearings.
Mihelcic said city workers would continue to clear weeds from medians “to the best of their abilities.”
“We will continue to navigate the pandemic and economic crisis while maintaining essential services,” she wrote. “We are all doing our best during these times and extraordinary circumstances.”
While the city hasn’t been able to deliver on its promise from last year, Muñoz said it had a “great plan” that was working before the pandemic.
“We saw evidence from the complaints going down from the top of the charts to the bottom of the charts where people were not complaining about it, and we started getting compliments,” he said. “We had good funding then, and we were seeing results. Unfortunately, with the pandemic as it has affected other areas around the financials, these are some of the results that you’re seeing, is just slower weed management.”