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As campus gardeners are forced to do the work of garbage collectors, the university's grounds are growing increasingly neglected. According to Chapot, if he and his fellow gardeners are lucky, they'll be able to squeeze in some pruning, weeding, or tree maintenance after lunch or at the end of the day, but still, he said, "we're falling behind on everything."
Other gardeners said there are weeds growing all over campus — and if those go to seed without being pulled, they'll continue to grow for years to come. Lawns which were previously edged on a two-week schedule are now trimmed once a month, so walking paths are narrowing, and according to Shaff, while there used to be two full-time lawnmowers, now there is one. The campus is blighted by overgrown hedges, and the grounds' once-beautiful rhododendrons and camellias are slowly disappearing. "We're trying like hell to keep our sector gardened," Chapot said. "And as soon as there's a gardener available, they get sent to other sectors, because they can't keep up."
Grounds maintenance may sound like a superficial concern, but it's got real consequences: As the University of California's flagship campus, Berkeley is home to many rare and native plants — plants which require devoted attention and specialized care. Taking care of those — like trimming the iconic sycamores in front of the Campanile in an intensive process called pollarding that takes a large majority of the grounds staff weeks to finish — necessarily means falling behind elsewhere on campus.
And moreover, on a campus as wooded as Cal's — and in a city with a not-insignificant crime problem — any overgrowth on campus glades can mean an increase in muggings and other assaults. According to John Suezaki, a sergeant in the university police department's crime prevention unit, forested areas like the eucalyptus grove on the west side of campus have historically been home to a lot of crime; though the maintenance staff recently engaged a large-scale trimming operation to improve what Suezaki and the police department call "natural surveillance" — i.e., visibility — he expressed some concern that because of cutbacks, their work may be hard to maintain. Eucalyptus are notoriously fast-maturing trees, and it's conceivable that a time may come again soon when their growth outstrips staff capabilities. "The concern is just maintenance staff being able to keep up with the upkeep," Suezaki said, though he did note that the university invests a lot of resources into crime prevention through environmental design, and that the grounds staff "do a really good job, considering what they have."
Part of the problem, too, is the sticky boundary between town and gown. In the case of Sproul Plaza, much of the trash comes from off campus — from the cafes, sandwich shops, and, especially, the Yogurtland, that line Bancroft Way. Those businesses pay taxes to the city, but the university is stuck dealing with the debris, especially because Bancroft Way has comparatively few trash receptacles.
Worthington knows this. Though the university and the city are separate jurisdictions, the councilman is used to fielding complaints about trash along Telegraph and Bancroft, as well as on campus. In his mind, this is a high-priority problem. "The current situation is not beautiful, and it's not cost-effective, and it's not ecologically sound. It's expensive, and it's messy."
Technically, the university governs the north side of Bancroft running along campus, and Worthington and the city manage the other side — which can make maintenance of that stretch of street, arguably one of the most litter-filled in the whole city, difficult. "It's one of those borderline jurisdiction issues," Worthington said. "But we don't want it to get lost."
The city has increased the number of receptacles lining Bancroft, but if you ask Worthington, it's not that simple. "We don't just want to say, 'Let's double the number of trash receptacles' — I don't think that would be a good answer. To me it's not just a trash problem." In his mind, the solution for both sides of Bancroft is the same, and it's multi-pronged: more diligent sorting (both on the citizen's side and the university's side of the equation), updated containers with clear signage and enough capacity to properly contain all the trash thrown into them, and less consumption in general. Regardless, he said, "I think we have an opportunity here to jump into this and address it — which I think we can do in a relatively simple and relatively cheap way. In spite of the budget cuts, there are some simple opportunities here."
The first of these would, logically, involve coordination between the city and the university. Both Worthington and Shaff underscored their respective party's commitment to communication, but to this day, Worthington said, the city and the university have yet to address the issue effectively. "We'll have one-minute, two-minute conversations here and there, and there were several times when people said they were trying to deal with it," he said. "We were told that the university was going to have a meeting between the head of recycling and some people from the city. If they did have that meeting, it didn't work."
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