Sacramento, California has been ranked the second dirtiest city in America by a website called HouseFresh. The state’s capital was second only to Baltimore and ranked ahead of Los Angeles (No. 4), Oakland (No. 15), and San Francisco (No. 19).
The designation has gotten all sorts of attention on social media, with residents debating who’s to blame – Mayor Steinberg, Gavin Newsom, that awful neighbor with the overgrown lawn?
There’s no doubt that Sacramento is experiencing immense challenges. The number of people living on the city’s streets has exploded in recent years. Sprawling encampments have led to numerous public health and safety issues. The city also has a rat problem.
But does Sactown really deserve the title of California’s dirtiest city?
Not so fast.
HouseFresh based its rankings on the number of calls to the government services hotline, 311. The researchers found the city had received more than 34,000 311 requests related to sanitation over a one-year period. That’s a lot!
When gleaning info from 311 calls, though, it’s just as important to consider who calls 311 as why. 311 requests have long been used as a measure of political engagement. In fact, a study from 2016 found that 311 call volume is positively correlated with political campaign donations. It should be noted that Sacramento has one of the highest concentrations of government workers in the state.
Studies have also shown that 311 use varies widely according to social and racial demographics. For instance, areas with high concentrations of first-generation immigrants are less likely to use the service.
Bottom line: this methodology is flawed. Sacramento may not actually be the state’s dirtiest city. Or maybe it is, who knows. If you’re bothered by it, do your part by participating in this year’s Great American River Clean-Up. It’s taking place Saturday, September 23 at 9 a.m.