File photo by Jason Ruiz.

Enforcement for street sweeping will be slowly phased in after the Long Beach City Council voted Tuesday to begin peeling back the city’s freeze on citations for residents who don’t move their vehicles for the cleaning.

Under the plan, regular street sweeping will resume May 4 but city workers will place warnings on vehicles blocking the sweepers’ access to the gutters on sweeping day. Citations could start being issued as soon as May 18 according to the plan approved by the council Tuesday.

Those dates, while preliminary, coincide with the stay-at-home order that is currently scheduled to stay in place at least through May 15.

The decision to stop issuing street sweeping citations was made March 17 after the city and the county directed residents to stay at home to slow the spread of COVID-19.

With more people staying at home, especially in parking impacted neighborhoods, the city made the decision not to penalize residents who may not be able to park on the opposite side of the street during sweeping. But that had some consequences.

“Since we’ve been operating under this program, one of the challenges that we’ve been experiencing is that people are now not moving their cars,” said Craig Beck, the city’s director of public works. “In the beginning, we did see people would move their cars on their designated street sweeping days but now that is not happening.”

The problem has been most apparent in communities with more multi-family homes. A memo said that sweeper operators had reported an 80% success rate in single-family neighborhoods but just a 15% success rate in more dense neighborhoods.

“In these areas that do have impacts on parking, whether these are areas that are laid out in the code or whether they’re not, you do have serious, serious challenges,” Mayor Robert Garcia said.

Garcia applauded the recommendation that citations be slowly phased in with warnings because of the economic impacts they could bring.

Residents are still being encouraged to apply for free parking passes to park at the city’s parking lots and garages in the meantime. Beck said that of the roughly 4,300 parking spaces in city lots that were offered to residents for free, only about 1,200 have been used since that option was announced in late March.

Not doing regular street sweeping and not having a mechanism to motivate residents to move their vehicles is creating problems for the city. Sediment and debris collecting around the wheels of parked cars is making it a challenge for it to meet national standards for clean waterways, which street sweeping contributes to by eliminating potential pollutants from entering into the ocean or the city’s riverbeds.

Not ticketing offenders is also hurting the city’s general fund. In January the city raised the cost of a street sweeping ticket by $10 to $70 per violation. However, in the weeks that it has stopped issuing citations, the city is projecting that it will lose approximately $1.7 million dollars through May 1.

That figure will likely grow because the council’s action will not allow for citations to be issued until at least May 18.

If the stay-at-home order is extended, the council could revisit ticketing for street sweeping again. Another option that city staff presented to the council Tuesday was a shift from weekly street sweeping to a twice-a-month schedule.

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.