Fed up with proliferation of trash, Holyoke mayor going on offensive 

  • Holyoke Mayor Joshua Garcia discusses the issue of trash and illegal dumping while walking through the alley between Hamilton and Sargent streets Friday morning in Holyoke. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

  • Holyoke Mayor Joshua Garcia discusses the issue of trash and illegal dumping while walking through the alley between Hamilton and Sargent streets Friday morning in Holyoke. In the short term, the mayor is calling out landlords to clean up their properties. In the long term, the city has commissioned of the city’s trash and recycling management. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

  • Illegally dumped trash piles up in the alley between Hamilton and Sargent streets Friday in Holyoke. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

  • Illegally dumped tires pile up in the alley between Hamilton and Sargent streets Friday in Holyoke. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

  • Illegally dumped containers pile up in the alley between Cabot and Spring streets Friday in Holyoke. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

  • Illegally dumped furniture and trash line the alley between Cabot and Spring streets Friday in Holyoke. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

  • Illegally dumped furniture and trash line the alley between Cabot and Spring streets Friday in Holyoke. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 8/14/2022 7:50:32 PM
Modified: 8/14/2022 7:47:06 PM

HOLYOKE — When driving into work last week, Mayor Joshua Garcia admits that he was “already in a bad mood.” But then he pulled in front of the city’s School Department on Suffolk Street and looked across the street.

There, two medium-sized dumpsters spewed trash across the entrance to the alleyway. Garbage bags were stacked in a leaning tower on top of the dumpsters and thrown in a huge pile in front of them. A frustrated Garcia decided he had enough. He snapped a picture and posted it to Facebook.

“Landlords, if you have this going on at your property, fix it immediately,” he wrote. “Show some respect.”

Garcia says he has grown tired of seeing illegal dumping and poor trash management around the city. So he has started naming and shaming landlords, posting their refuse-strewn properties on Facebook with calls to clean up.

The landlords own the alleyways behind their buildings, not the city, Garcia explained. The buildings on either side of the alley across from the School Department are owned by the companies New Man Ventures LLC and Whiting Building LLC, according to city property records. Those companies are located, respectively, in Brookline and Nashua, New Hampshire.

New Man Ventures LLC is owned by Joshua Rivers, state filings show. Efforts to reach Rivers were unsuccessful, as were efforts to contact Dmitry Zhivotovsky, who owns Whiting Building LLC.

Garcia said those owners actually stepped up after he used his large platform to call them out. On a ride-around with the Gazette on Friday, he drove past the School Department to point out the emptied dumpsters and clean alleyway across the street. But that, unfortunately, was just one dirty spot among many that Garcia says are concentrated in the city’s poorer lower wards where most residents are Hispanic.

South Holyoke was Garcia’s neighborhood growing up in the city. He pointed down toward the nonprofit Nueva Esperanza, noting that as a kid he was in the organization’s El Arco Iris youth program. A lot of the illegal trash dumping that happens in those parts of the city, he said, is “structural racism at its worst.” Dumpers see it as a place they can leave junk because they see it as a vulnerable community with high poverty, and Garcia wants to push back against that.

“This is my community,” Garcia said. He said property owners and illegal dumpers are to blame in most cases, but that the local government also needs to be involved in fixing the problem. “These people expect us to work for them. To do what government is supposed to do.”

The city hasn’t been perfect on its end when it comes to trash management, Garcia acknowledges. For example, many city residents are renters, though it’s unclear whether renters can use the Department of Public Works’ bulk waste drop-off facility. Even Garcia was unsure.

While homeowners get a refuse disposal card that allows them to use the 63 Canal St. location, Garcia spokesperson Stephen Fay said that as the mayor’s office understands it, renters can get a card for $10 if they provide documentation. Not all renters are able to get the card, he said, referring the Gazette to the DPW for specifics. Efforts to reach DPW Acting Superintendent Amie Chrzanowski were unsuccessful Friday.

In his budget this fiscal year, Garcia included $40,000 for a study of the city’s trash and recycling management. He said he’ll work with the City Council once that study is done to implement those recommendations, even if it means outsourcing certain garbage routes, for example.

Garcia said he’s also working to use federal coronavirus relief funds to staff up in the city’s “enforcement agencies” like the Building Department and Board of Health, which he praised for their work enforcing the city’s trash ordinances. City government can’t do it alone, though, Garcia said, imploring residents to take care of their community and hold their neighbors accountable.

“I’m sick of it. The Board of Health over and over offers fines,” he said. Some landlords simply pay them and continue to let trash accumulate, though. “It’s cheaper to pay the fine than it is to adequately address the problems.”

While the trash study will identify long-term fixes, in the short term Garcia’s out and about, driving around the city and calling out problem properties.

On Friday, he first drove the Gazette to an alley between Hamilton and Sargent streets where boxes littered the ground and somebody had dumped used tires. Garcia showed off a large dumpster that was locked at the top — what property owners should be doing, he said. But illegal dumpers just left their trash next to the dumpster, then. He said the city wants to catch those dumpers.

In another passageway between Cabot and Spring streets, city resident Carmen Torres recognized Garcia as the mayor and stopped to talk. Asked how she felt about the trash cluttering the alley she was passing through — used paint cans and a torn-up couch littering the ground — she said “this is too much” in Spanish.

“This is nasty,” Torres said. Garcia responded: “The owners are culpable.”

Another man leaned out a fourth-story window to speak to Garcia, who told him to call his office if he sees anybody dumping illegally.

There are several steps that Garcia urged building owners to take to comply with city trash laws, such as hiring a building resident as a superintendent to watch over the property and take care of problems when they arise.

“Now to cut corners and save a buck they’re not hiring superintendents,” Garcia said. “We have other property owners who just think Holyoke is a dumping ground.”

Garcia said he always appreciates when people invest in Holyoke and that he doesn’t want to be punishing people. But he has decided that something has to change, vowing to go after out-of-town owners who don’t care about Holyoke. And the response to his public criticism of wrongdoers has been positive, he said.

“I drew a line,” he said. “I think people appreciate that.”

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.

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