Hold on to your butts, litter

Posted: Wednesday, July 07, 2010

City officials are hoping a change to Juneau's litter code makes for a cleaner downtown.

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Libby Sterling / Juneau Empire
Libby Sterling / Juneau Empire

The Assembly recently approved a $50 fine for litter consisting of less than one square foot. Previously, the city's litter code did not differentiate fines based on the amount of litter. Now, litter of more than a square foot means a $200 fine on the first offense, and more for the second or third offense within two years. Litter of less than one square foot means a fine of $50 on any offense.

It's a change that's targeted, at least in part, at cigarette butts that litter curbs and gutters downtown, said two residents speaking on behalf of Leadership Juneau at the Assembly meeting at which the change was approved.

Jeff Vogt told the Assembly the change was recommended in a report Leadership Juneau did on the effects of the smoking ban. A ban on smoking in the city's bars, restaurants and public places went into effect on Jan. 2, 2008, driving Juneau's smokers outdoors.

City Manager Rod Swope said the change is intended to affect litter of all sorts. Downtown police officer Brian Ervin and officers doing bike patrol duty will enforce the code, issuing citations when they personally witness someone littering, Swope said.

Jim Hopkins, owner of the Front Street store Artifacts, said he supports the change, but is concerned about its enforcement.

"The best thing that happens in the morning is the street sweeper," he said. "When they take a day off it's just chaotic down here. It's embarrassing. Something needs to be done."

Hopkins suggested an increase in cigarette butt receptacles as another means of addressing the problem.

"Any change is always going to be controversial," he added.

Some downtown business owners and managers said they don't experience much of a problem with litter.

Shelly Hurt, co-owner of the Imperial Saloon, said when the smoking ban was first implemented, she had more of a problem with cigarette butts littering the sidewalk in front of the bar, but she let customers know that wasn't acceptable and now doesn't see so much of a problem. The Imperial's main problem with litter is from "street people" drinking and dropping empty 40-ounce bottles of malt liquor behind the building, she said.

Erika Roberts, manager of the Subway on Seward Street, said the manager of the building in which the restaurant resides sweeps the sidewalk there. "We haven't really encountered too much of that," she said of littering.

Downtown business and building owners are responsible for cleaning the sidewalk in front of their properties.

Some other downtown business employees also said litter is a problem downtown.

Prior to the fine change's adoption, Assembly member Ruth Danner said she was concerned the fine was too high and suggested lowering it to $25, an ordinance amendment that failed 3-6.

City Attorney John Hartle said as with any fine, it can be contested and the fine could be amended to less than $50 - or, should the judge so decide, nothing at all - in court.

Fines were also increased for several specific kinds of littering offenses. A first offense for tossing litter from a car, for example, will now net the litterer a $200 fine as opposed to a $100 fine.

The changes will come into effect around July 28.

• Contact reporter Mary Catharine Martin at 523-2276 or maryc.martin@juneauempire.com.

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