Shared from the 12/23/2018 San Antonio Express eEdition


Mounds of garbage, but no cleanup plan

Photos by Josh Brodesky / Staff

Heaping, stinking mounds of trash accumulate in The Glen — a big bag of garbage in a tree, a mountain of waste on the streets, filth everywhere. But nothing can be done, residents are told, even though a pilot program has transformed the neighborhood next to it.


This is not a Christmas story — not even close. It’s a story about indifference. It’s a story about inhumanity and indignity. It’s a story about people living surrounded by garbage. But it begins with Santa Claus.

Three years ago, on a chilly morning, Santa Claus stood on a corner in Camelot II, a Northeast Side neighborhood long covered in trash.

Not trash, as in a bit of stray litter kicking down the road, or plastic bags gently swirling in the breeze.

These were heaping, stinking mounds of garbage that boxed in the neighborhood and defined it as a suburban wasteland. For years, it had been this way in Camelot II, just outside city limits in unincorporated Bexar County. Until the city garbage trucks rolled down the streets there, marking the beginning of a city-county pilot program to ensure that never again would a child walk through garbage to get to school. To ensure that even in the poorest of ZIP codes, all residents of Bexar County and the San Antonio region were guaranteed a degree of basic dignity.

To celebrate the occasion, for it cannot be called an accomplishment to make something that should never have been so crooked straight, Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Calvert invited Santa Claus to Camelot II. Christmas, he said, had come early.

Despite lots of hand-wringing from certain Bexar County officials, the pilot program worked. Residents paid their trash bills, which were included in their electric bills. The streets and alleys in Camelot II are clean and clear. A law was even passed to ensure this would never happen again in unincorporated Bexar County. The city and county recently extended the Camelot II pilot program for another year.

But if Christmas came early to 600 or so townhomes in Camelot II in 2015, it never arrived in The Glen, the next neighborhood over. It, too, has long been plagued with trash problems. It, too, is a neighborhood dominated by landlords. It, too, is just beyond city limits, deceptively so for many residents who think they are living in the city. Despite these similarities, the city-county pilot program never included The Glen. And once again, the county is saying nothing can be done in a neighborhood where garbage piles high.

That legislation-turned-law from state Sen. José Menéndez is flawed, county officials have asserted in a memo. The law empowers Bexar County to mandate trash service in unincorporated areas such as Camelot II and The Glen, and it allows Bexar County to contract with the city of San Antonio or any private hauler to provide this service, but it’s not good enough, officials have said.

Which is another way of saying to residents in The Glen: You will simply have to live with garbage bags in trees and fetid mounds of waste in alleys. With fast-food wrappers and used diapers ravaged by stray dogs. With dumped mattresses and broken TVs. Because even though Bexar County can mandate trash service, even though the city and county have partnered successfully on this issue just down the road, nothing can be done. It’s impossible.

Kay Preau, who has owned a home in The Glen for nearly 20 years, summed up the situation as she pointed to a dumped mattress and a TV.

“We are not treated like human beings,” she said. “It’s as if we don’t matter.”

The scene was worse a few streets down. A big bag of garbage was in a tree. A small mountain of waste accumulated on the streets. A dumped couch. An abandoned mattress. Filth everywhere. Even when you look up.

“This area here is considered very low standard,” said Helen Castillo, who keeps a pristine home and has lived here eight years. “I don’t know what other word to use. It’s just down on the bottom.”

The city bailed out the county on Camelot II, but this is the county’s mess to clean up. If Menéndez’s legislation didn’t meet the mark last session — and he has said he will adjust it — county officials should have said something at the time.

One of the promises of the city-county pilot program in Camelot II was to provide a model to replicate in other neighborhoods. The city never planned to be in Camelot II forever.

“We wanted to show, per request of Bexar County, that it can be done,” said David McCary, the city’s solid waste director.

Three years later, there is no county trash service plan in sight for The Glen. Just a trash bag twisting in a tree and mounds of garbage below.

See this article in the e-Edition Here
Edit Privacy