For the most part, Siesta Key’s streets appear very clean. But one’s first impression is that the entryways to the Key, particularly on weekends, could stand some work.
A half-eaten chicken leg greeted me on the sidewalk outside my home the other morning. How did it get there and why? That’s a job not so much for Sherlock Holmes as for Inspector Clousseau.
This morning I found a fast-food franchise coffee cup. There’s my first clue. The person who left the coffee cup on my street lacks class. We never see a cup from that well-known coffee company.
My neighbors and I have found cans that previously held inexpensive (cheap) brands of beer, along with soda cans, water bottles and fast food and candy wrappings.
The next clue concerns location. Street trash appears on major thoroughfares, but rarely on residential streets. The main targets for the leftovers appear to be Siesta Drive, Higel Avenue, Midnight Pass Road and Ocean Boulevard.
This tells us that residents are probably not the culprits. Why would they litter their own neighborhoods?
So we must be dealing with visitor litterers — and local visitors at that – young, cheap, disrespectful and unappreciative. Foreign visitors, we reason, would have more respect for the No. 1 beach in the U.S., after traveling hundreds or thousands of miles to see it.
Mainland visitors — let’s call them the “Bridge Crowd” — obviously feel free to litter our roads.
(Note: In New York City, locals derogatorily call out-of-Manhattan visitors “The Bridge and Tunnel Crowd.”)
Do our “Bridge Crowd” members think they spend enough at local businesses to warrant abusing our Key, that we should clean up after them?
The question becomes how do we stop these itinerants from littering?
Perhaps the following suggestions would help:
1. Add more “No Littering” signs. Very few of these signs appear on the Key.
2. Use signs created with the material that glows when hit by headlights. Road trash seems to appear mostly in the mornings.
3. Substantially increase the $100 fine to discourage littering. Make the fine so high that Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office deputies and Sarasota Police Department officers will see the value in confronting the culprits.
4. Along with fining them, make these litterers perform hours of public service, cleaning the roads on which they throw trash.
5. Give citizens the right to report license tag numbers of litterers to the Sheriff’s Office or Police Department. The Key has a Community Policing Station, manned by Sheriff’s Office deputies and a sergeant, on Ocean Boulevard across from Davidson Plaza. If we diligently report the “Bridge Crowd” offenders and they get fined, the word will pass around. Littering will decline.
6. Install report-form “Take One” boxes on the posts that hold dog-poop bags. Additionally, place the boxes in select locations at Siesta Public Beach, Turtle Beach and other popular gathering places.
7. Some newspapers list the names and pictures of people convicted of DUI and other offenses. Use the Pelican Press to list the litterers. Embarrass them. Make them want to avoid littering here.
Consider the notion of symptom versus cure. Adopt a Highway is a wonderful program. Residents, groups and companies fund road clean-ups, which are a valuable service. But these efforts address only the symptom — picking up someone else’s litter.
The Adopt A Road undertakings unfortunately perpetuate littering, because the volunteers pick up after the litterers, just as the litterers’ mothers probably did. If someone else cleans up after you, why do the cleaning up yourself?
It would be much better if we could break the littering habit. Focus on the cure, not the symptom.
The Siesta Key Association has good relationships with Sarasota County Government and the Sheriff’s Office. Maybe the SKA can work with them to propose an increase in the littering fine, the addition of better signs and citizen reporting rights.
Together, in strength, we can clean up the major roads of our Key and make the No. 1 beach in the U.S. even better.
Jeffrey Weisman pursued a career in advertising and marketing in New York City and ran Main Street restaurant in Greenwich Village before moving to Siesta Key. He is a fine arts photographer and artist who serves on the board of directors of Art Center Sarasota.