Pomona’s mayor is cleaning up the streets, one at a time

Pomona’s mayor is cleaning up the streets, one at a time

Most Tuesday mornings, a group of dedicated volunteers in work gloves and bright orange Pomona Beautiful T-shirts can be found about town, along Holt Avenue maybe or near a 10 Freeway offramp.

The leader of the group, Tim Sandoval, mayor of Pomona, says his goal is to clean up his city, one location at a time. Each week, the dozen dedicated volunteers spend 2 1/2 hours at a site, doing everything from removing trash and trimming grass edges to pulling overgrown weeds. Their efforts have been so well-received — with others wanting to help — that he’s added a second cleanup Saturday mornings for people who aren’t available Tuesdays.

“Traveling the city, you are bound to see areas that need to be cleaned. What drives where we go is where the need is,” Sandoval, 47, said. On these mornings, the black fitness tracker on his wrist will easily clock 10,000 steps.

Recently, the volunteers spent a morning at Garey and Lexington avenues, near Garey High School, because they noticed the overgrown shrubs and trash accumulating along the sidewalk. The volunteers wanted to tidy that area ahead of the first week of classes.

The group starts its Tuesday at Pomona City Hall at 8 a.m., but it’s not just a meetup. They’ll make the most of the 15 minutes they give themselves by picking up litter on the sidewalks.

Shortly before 8:30 a.m., the group is already at the site. This past week’s site was Washington Park, where Sandoval was seen unloading items from his tan 1980s Nissan pickup truck, once his father’s. The truck’s bed, which has been lowered and sports a Raiders sticker on the back window, is filled with trash cans, weed wackers and other cleaning supplies.

Not long after the volunteers fanned out — most with brooms and stand-up dustbins in hand, others with a rolling trash can — they made their way around the park, picking up items. Often Sandoval ends up with two truckloads of trash and debris to take to the city yard.

“Part of the message we’re trying to convey is that we all have to take ownership of this community,” Sandoval said. “This is one of the ways in which you can do that.”

With Pomona facing financial issues, Sandoval is aware that even though city staff are cleaning the streets, resources are limited.

The group got started after Bob Cruz recommended Sandoval meet up with Azusa Mayor Joe Rocha, who heads a similar operation. The two mayors talked, and Sandoval said he walked away wanting to lead his own community cleanup effort.

When he was elected two years ago, he left his job with Bright Prospect, an educational nonprofit, to devote himself full time to the mayor’s post. He met with every council member and asked if they were in favor of hosting a cleanup day.

That first attempt was a daylong effort with volunteers visiting all six districts, dedicating about 1 1/2 hours to each zone. “What was I thinking?” Sandoval chuckled as he put his hand to his forehead.

The effort evolved into the Tuesday morning cleanup constitutional.

This summer, the volunteers are focusing on parks, already tending to Ganesha, Martin Luther King Jr. and Westmont. But the group’s focal area is one of the city’s busier thoroughfares, Holt Avenue, which Sandoval said is the site of a lot of trash and activity.

“The way I see it is that there’s positive presence,” he said, adding he’s noticed a difference.

A resident in May snapped a candid photo from his car of Sandoval cleaning a gutter by himself at Holt and Garey avenues, outside the future home of Fuller Theological Seminary, and shared it on Facebook. As Sandoval recounted, the day before, he had passed by and noticed the trash. The next day, he happened to get up 6:30 a.m. and decided it was a good morning to go to the corner to clean it.

He had forgotten the stand-up dustpan and got down on one knee to clean the gutter. Unbeknownst to him, the resident took the photo. It received 353 reactions and 74 comments on Facebook.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Ontiveros-Cole, who says she’s been doing similarly on streets in her neighborhood for years, rarely misses the Tuesday cleanups.

“What we’re doing is letting people know there is a beautiful side to Pomona and that we have to truly look into that side,” she said. “It’s just not the hearsay of the negative.”

She added: “We’re here and we’re doing what we have to, and it’s catching on. It’s a contagious thing.”

Cleanups didn’t always operate as smoothly as they do now. When the group first started, volunteers cobbled together a couple of hand dustpans, trash cans and regular trash bags.

Now they use contractor bags, which are not only sturdier but hold more, and have also acquired five commercial-style stand-up dustpans. They’ve also upgraded to two pull trash cans, which can be easily towed.

Those improvements were made at the suggestion of Dianne Goodwin, who has been dubbed the “Presidente” by the group. She earned the nickname because she is not shy about giving her opinions to improve the workflow.

And as she proudly stated: “I’ve been coming since Day One, and I don’t miss any days.”

Goodwin, who has lived in Pomona five years, learned of the group through word of mouth and immediately got involved.

“We need everyone working together. I clean my house, I clean my area, but I live in Pomona, and I think I should make it the best I can possibly make it,” Goodwin, donning a hiking hat, said. “People ask me why I do it. Because I am part of this city and that’s my home, so I consider this cleaning my home.”

Just then, Sandoval came over with his cellphone blasting an oldie and jokingly serenaded Goodwin. That’s what it’s like, Goodwin said, everyone gets along like family.

“When I drive through town, it looks so much better. When it looks better, you give them some sense of pride,” she said.

Pete Garcia, also known as Sergeant Garcia among the group, is the newest volunteer. He’s been coming for about five months after Sandoval coaxed him into volunteering.

Last week, Garcia had a leaf blower with him. Other times he brings his lawnmower.

It isn’t always an easy venture for the volunteers. Goodwin still remembers the one morning the group was gathered on an onramp of the 71 Freeway, tractor-trailers buzzing past them as they tried to corral and pack up tumbleweeds. They returned tattered and cut up, but ready to work some more.

Sandoval knows the group can’t keep doing this on their own. He is getting help creating a web page which would allow residents to adopt their street or even neighborhood. In essence, they would fill out a form and agree to clean once a quarter, at minimum, he said.

The goal is to have every street and neighborhood owned in Pomona in four years, he said.

It doesn’t just have to be residents, either. He envisions businesses — family-owned or as large as Fairplex — participating.

“This is really about building community around a challenge, which is littering and trash, and trying to remind everyone we’re all responsible for this community,” Sandoval said. “This is one of the ways you can contribute. It’s not the only way.”

Just then, Sandoval grabbed an electric trimmer and got back to work cutting the edges of the grass.

Source: Daily Bulletin

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