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Alley Oops 

In the first few years of the 1900s, when developers set to work on the homes around Corbin Park on the north side of Spokane, they deliberately put the business ends of the houses on the alleys behind them, leaving the front yards open to flow into the park.

"These homes were designed around the turn of the century with services in the back, garage in the back," says Corbin Park resident Gina McKenzie. "The ice block man brought your ice block to the back. They didn't tie up their horses in the front."

That's why she says she's baffled about the city of Spokane's decision to stop picking up trash in 220 alleys across the north side in favor of picking it up in front of the homes with larger automated trucks that won't fit down the narrow alleys.

McKenzie, a real estate broker "who's worked hard to promote the area for 20-something years," is leading a neighborhood push against the change in the pick-up policy, which was announced on June 11 and began this Monday.

Last week, she helped organize a meeting of around 60 or 70 Corbin Park residents to talk about the change and plan an opposition campaign. "Everybody's just getting on the bandwagon with this."

Among the concerns voiced by residents there is that the tall garbage trucks with their robotic lifting arms will damage trees and cars as they hoist trash up and over the edge of the truck bed. They're also worried about the elderly and disabled -- who may not be able to heft their bins around the house -- and vacationers, for whom a long-standing empty trash bin is a sure sign of a vacant (easily robbed) house.

But the city's solid waste director, Mollie Mangerich, says automated pick-up is another step toward a more efficient city. She estimates that by eliminating two semi-automated routes and pushing more mileage out of their automated routes, the department will be able to save up to $110,000 per year.

The changes come six months after a city efficiency report recommended automating the six city garbage routes that are still only semi-automated, though Mangerich points out that the city has been closing alleys for more than ten years.

She adds that her department plans to get to the city's south side next, where she expects to see similar savings. For now, though, she's told Corbin Park residents to try the new system for a few weeks. "We're starting it this week, and I'm watching it very closely," she says.

That's no palliative to McKenzie, though. "We might not have much of a problem after the first week," she says, "because all of the tree branches will be broken off already."

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