Marek Warszawski

Mayor can’t ‘Keep Fresno Beautiful’ on his own. Entire community needs to pitch in

My only quibble with Fresno Mayor Lee Brand’s fledgling trash-removal initiative is its name: “Keep Fresno Beautiful.”

If California’s fifth-largest city was already beautiful, there would be no need for a campaign to make things less trashy.

That isn’t to say Fresno is ugly. (To be clear, I’m not saying that.) But “beautiful” isn’t the right word, either. A better descriptor might be “ruggedly handsome,” which implies a certain unpolished weather-beaten toughness that’s attractive in its own way.

Think Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Or, for the older set, Clint Eastwood in “High Plains Drifter.”

Name aside, kudos to Brand for wading into our trash heap before he sashays back to civilian life at the end of next year.


Following Thursday’s announcement of a daily program to pick up litter along Highways 41, 99, 168 and 180 through the city limits, I’m eager to hear what’s next.

“One of the most frequent complaints that I get from residents and visitors is the unattractive amount of trash that everyone sees on our streets and highways,” Brand said during last month’s State of the City address. “It’s ugly and we all can do something about it.”

While having four to eight people remove litter and do weed abatement along our freeways is a positive step, it’s also just a Band-Aid. Because soon after every piece of trash gets picked up, another takes its place.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about: The other day, plastic bottles and fast-food wrappers were flying out of the open bed of a pickup truck traveling on Highway 168. I pulled up alongside ready to point and gesture, but the driver didn’t even notice me.

He was too busy staring at his phone.

Here’s another: Over the last 20 years, volunteer groups have removed 11,000 tires from the San Joaquin River.

No, that wasn’t a typo: 11,000!

Richard Sloan, co-founder of RiverTree Volunteers, stands next to a pile of illegally dumped tires that he and other volunteers removed from the river between Highway 99 and Skaggs Bridge during a 2005 cleanup effort. More than 11,000 tires have been dumped into the San Joaquin River over the years. MARK CROSSE Fresno Bee file

According to Richard Sloan, co-founder of RiverTree Volunteers, the vast majority were tractor-trailer tires. Which means there’s a local company (or several) that treats the San Joaquin as its personal dumping ground.

So unless Brand’s “Keep Fresno Beautiful” initiative includes hefty fines for individuals and businesses that do the complete opposite, any progress will be short-lived.

Our trashy roots run deeper than we like to admit.

While most cities build parks and trails to showcase their rivers, we (Pinedale, technically) put a garbage dump next to ours.

Until Fresno finds a way to change the prevailing ethos, that it’s perfectly OK to dump things we don’t want or no longer need onto our streets and in our waterways, parts of the city will continue to be an eyesore.

How do we do that? It starts with education – and by instilling a deeper sense of pride in where we live. Which is a constant struggle.

In 2017, Sloan told me a story about supervising a river cleanup event by high school students that illustrates what we’re up against.

“They’re doing an excellent job. Just bending down and doing stuff like crazy,” Sloan said. “Then they pull a candy bar out of their pocket, take a bite and throw the wrapper behind them.”

I’m pleased Brand is taking steps to address Fresno’s trash problem, but he can’t do it alone. This is one of those times when we all need to pitch in.

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Marek Warszawski writes opinion columns on news, politics, sports and quality of life issues for The Fresno Bee, where he has worked since 1998. He is a Bay Area native, a UC Davis graduate and lifelong Sierra frolicker. He welcomes discourse with readers but does not suffer fools nor trolls.