Litter lines Broadway near the I-35 overpass the morning after the Fiesta Flambeau Parade. Photo by Robert Rivard.

Looking on the bright side, credit the City of San Antonio. When the sun rose Sunday morning, the Fiesta Parade route streets looked like they had just been swept, scrubbed, flossed and polished. The day after the Fiesta Flambeau Parade might be the cleanest day of the year for Broadway.

And staying on the bright side, the army of volunteers sent into battle by Keep San Antonio Beautiful and the Fiesta Verde movement have helped reduce the tonnage of street litter while increasing the amount of recycled material collected separately from the trash bound for the landfill.

Workers pick up cans along Broadway the morning after the Fiesta Flambeau. Photo by Robert Rivard
Workers pick up cans along Broadway the morning after the Fiesta Flambeau Parade. Photo by Robert Rivard

It also was evident early Sunday morning as I rode my bike along the parade route and inspected the parking lots and sidewalks where different nonprofits and community groups lease chairs and spaces to individuals, that many of the groups have bought into the anti-littering initiatives. They’ve either kept their customers on the parade route from littering or they’ve cleaned up before going home. The morning-after mess was simply not visible in many, many places. Progress!

Jim Mery isn’t exactly a household name, but as deputy director of the city’s Downtown Operations and Center City Development Office, he oversees the massive post-Fiesta cleanup. It’s a complex undertaking that has to be launched the second the parade clears the street and finished while the city sleeps.  Other city departments – Solid Waste and the Office of Sustainability – are part of the cleanup blitz. These are the unsung heroes.

And a lot of the same city officials, including Mery, volunteer to hand out recycling and trash bags and talk to people about using them and reducing the after-parade cleanup. That doesn’t make the news, either, but it’s true.

The recycling figures for this year’s parades and other festival events are not available yet, but each year the city is working with the public and the Fiesta Commission and the organizations behind 23 major Fiesta events to reduce litter and increase collection of recyclables. The city as a whole is on the right track.

Littering, however, isn’t a City of San Antonio problem. It’s a community behavior problem, just as stray dogs and cats are a community problem and not the city’s fault. People litter for a number of reasons: they are lazy, the places where they litter already are blighted, or they are simply ignorant and don’t value the environment. Plenty of people who are educated and know better also litter. In their world, cleaning up is someone else’s job – for the hired help.

Broadway may be the city’s most celebrated north-south street, the epicenter of so much development, the street that symbolizes progress. So why do people trash Broadway?

Litter lines Broadway at I-35 the morning after the Fiesta Flambeau. Photo by Robert Rivard
Litter lines Broadway near the I-35 overpass the morning after the Fiesta Flambeau Parade. Photo by Robert Rivard.

All the recycling bags, earnest volunteers and public service announcements cannot cure our city’s Fiesta littering problem.

That’s why we are publishing these photos that I took Sunday morning as workers disassembled the bleachers on Broadway near and under the I-35 expressway.

City workers and the big sweepers couldn’t reach the fields of trash left behind by parade-goers who sat in those bleachers. Too many people now pretend we have this Fiesta litter problem under control. That’s far from the truth.

I have one question for the Fiesta Commission: Why do you allow this to happen year after year? Why don’t you force the offending groups to comply with the anti-litter campaign, or lose their places along the parade route?

The answer to that simple question, unfortunately, has not been forthcoming. Fiesta Commission representatives do not return my telephone calls. Frankly, my anti-litter campaign, which reaches back to my years as editor of the Express-News, was never really welcomed at Fiesta Commission offices.

At least this year we didn’t have a sudden storm carry all that  trash into the San Antonio River. But make no mistake: Despite lessons learned in last year’s disastrous despoiling of the Mission Reach, a storm Saturday night would have caused the same damage all over again.

High water flow leaves behind litter along the Mission Reach trail after flooding. Each citizen can do their part to keep the river clean by making sure they properly dispose of trash and recyclables. Photo courtesy of SARA.
High water flow leaves behind litter along the Mission Reach trail after flooding. Each citizen can do their part to keep the river clean by making sure they properly dispose of trash and recyclables. Photo courtesy of SARA.

Sunday morning it was me and other cyclists gazing at the blocks-long field of trash, and here and there, can pickers picking up beer cans, soda and water bottles, and  volunteers or, perhaps, paid workers slowly filling garbage bags as the bleachers came down.

Sunday morning was a snapshot of San Antonio at its best and at its worst. Only a few feet separated two very different pictures: a cleanly swept street lined here and there by massive littering. A city on the rise next to a city of slobs.

It takes whole families to make such a mess: parents, their children, and complicit Fiesta officials who would rather not make waves, especially with certain groups that market the parade seating. Isn’t it just easier to turn a blind eye and let taxpayers clean up after the big party? Aren’t there people eager to go to work picking up other people’s discarded beer and soft drink bottles, food wrappers and other garbage?

The Rivard Report couldn’t get Fiesta Commission’s Director of Communications Shannon Houghtaling on the telephone, but we invite her to offer her own views and those of her colleagues  on what we need to do as a community to put an end to the mass littering  that is part of every Fiesta. We would be pleased to publish such a report.

Imagine what pride our city would share if we could hold  a real Fiesta Verde. Will that happen? We’ll have to wait until a Sunday morning a year from now to see.

Related Stories:

Fiesta Verde: Teaching Parade-goers to Leave It Like They Found It

Fiesta on the San Antonio River’s ‘Garbage Reach’

Fiesta Excess: When Commemoration Turns Sloppy

A Brief Guide to Fiesta for First Timers & The Cascarón App

Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard is editor of the San Antonio Report.