Bakersfield's Creative Solution for Trash-Littered Freeways

When the state stopped picking up litter on the highways, Bakersfield, Calif., found a sustainable way to get the job done -- and help the homeless in the bargain.
by | July 29, 2013

"I don't get no respect." The old Rodney Dangerfield lament is one you hear all the time from people, whether in government, industry or the nonprofit world, who operate the infrastructure that provides water and energy and hauls away the trash. What frustrates these providers is the invisible role that they typically play in their communities -- that is, until there's a problem.

Some communities regularly deserve (and garner) recognition for their creative and sustainable water, energy and waste-management services. In California, San Francisco is one such city. Santa Monica is another. Often the difference comes down to resources -- having the money to build the infrastructure, keep it maintained and provide reliable service at a reasonable cost.

So it might seem surprising when a city like Bakersfield, in the heart of California's Central Valley and with fewer economic resources than San Francisco or Santa Monica, joins the group. Bakersfield's public-works department did so by creatively engaging the local community to find a sustainable solution to a growing roadside-litter problem.

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As so often happens, it all started with a policy change at another level of government. Freeway upkeep falls under the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans). But the state's ongoing prison-realignment effort resulted in a loss of local inmate labor to hire to pick up trash on the roads. As litter accumulated along Bakersfield's freeways, residents found themselves driving through a growing eyesore.

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Bob Graves  |  Associate Director of the Governing Institute

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