Ignoring a drizzle and their own political differences, La Mesans broke into groups Saturday morning to pick up trash, clean bus stops and pull weeds in The Village ahead of Tuesday’s centennial celebration.
The effort may have sparked a resolve to deal with the biggest complaint of cleanup volunteers: smokers’ debris.
After two hours of cleaning up cigarette butts, Mayor Art Madrid said he would like to come up with a plan to solve the problem.
“How do we deal with irresponsible smokers?” he asked. “First, I think we need to appeal to their sense of fair play.”
Madrid says he wants to explore what other cities are doing about cigarette litter. He says he’ll look into the possibility of an ordinance that would put a 15 percent surcharge on cigarettes to pay for cleanup.
“Businesses have to step up to the plate” by encouraging their clients not to litter, he said. “I think that we should hold people accountable if people throw trash in the street. If people smoke, they should be responsible.”
“How do we teach responsibility?” he asked. “We have to find a way. Why should the vast majority of people who don’t smoke be responsible to clean all of this up? Unfortunately, the only time that some people understand is when there’s a financial penalty.”
Several volunteers cleaning the bus stops encouraged the city to install ash trays.
Organized by Jim Wieboldt, the event attracted at least 50 people, including members of several churches such as and They met at 8 a.m. inside the , whose members also took part.
Although Mayor Madrid and Councilwoman Ruth Sterling clash at times, they paired up to sweep the gutters and sidewalks of an area of La Mesa Boulevard between Spring and Fourth streets.
Proponents and opponents of the downtown PBID effort worked together as well.
Lynn McRea, , was out helping along with seven of her colleagues and said the tree planter outside of Cosmos contained hundreds of cigarette butts.
“It was gross,” she said.
Although she said she spent time daily cleaning up in front of her own store, she was shocked to see the number of butts in the planter.
McRea said she had to venture out into the street to retrieve all the cigarette trash.
Tic Long, an executive pastor at Journey Church, said: “People don’t think of cigarette butts as litter, yet they will put paper in a trash can.”
Phil Sluder of Triaxial Design and Analysis on Palm Avenue said he has been regularly cleaning the corner of Palm and Allison on Saturdays for the past six months.
He said he finds mostly cigarette butts, wrappers and ATM receipts from the nearby Chase Bank in his half-hour routine.
“The bad part is we need pressure washing because of all the gum—because we can’t pick that up,” Sluder said.
He said he’s been trying to keep the area clean as a way of discouraging people from leaving trash. If they see trash, they’ll leave more, he figures.
Also helping out was Christina Robertson, who said: “We all know there’s no money for this anymore, so we have to help out.”
Nine-year-old Caitlyn, another Journey Church volunteer, said: “I think this is awesome.”
“Because I love getting dirty.”
One unwelcome discovery by the Journey group was a pair of adult Army pants lined with excrement at the corner of Spring Street and Allison.
Mike Moore of said the cleanup event made a difference.
“You have a feeling of community,” Moore said. “There are people here who don’t get along, and they’re out here together. I think that’s impressive. And there are many ministries out here, and that’s incredible.”
He’d like to see citizen cleanups become a regular thing.
McRea, chairwoman of the PBID Formation Committee, said: “Volunteers help make the community strong. We have a divided community. And what I would like is a community that is not so divisive, and this kind of thing helps.”
Wieboldt, the former Chamber of Commerce president, started his work at 6 a.m. when he and his wife, Kelly, and others painted curbs, yanked weeds and trimmed plants at the intersection of Allison, La Mesa Boulevard and Fourth.
Dave Woodson, McRea’s husband, said he had five co-workers from his real estate office out helping.
“We always try to help improve the downtown,” he said.
As John Vigil of the La Mesa Village Merchants Association put up centennial banners, Councilwoman Sterling said: “We have a big happy birthday [coming up] and we want La Mesa to be in its finest dress.”