They were taking hubcaps, grabbing other people's cigarettes and tossing whatever they could find into bags, leaving practically nothing behind.
Where were the government officials? Shouldn't something have been done about this situation?
And there was the gang leader calmly walking along 13th Street, disregarding the cars zooming by. I've heard that the leader has even been publicly recruiting for some more new members.
Maria Shreve of Sanford – perhaps "community organizer" might be a more apt title than "gang leader" – enlisted this volunteer Beautification Gang to help clean up some of the streets and areas around town that have become overgrown eyesores and litter magnets.
Shreve, a real estate agent and regular Centennial Forum columnist in The Sanford Herald, said her goals are to spot clean around town, spur people to stop tossing out litter from their cars and encourage neglectful homeowners and merchants to improve the aesthetics of their properties.
This was the Beautification Gang's first outing and the group of 10 or so (which I happened to join that morning) collected about 20 bags of trash and grass clippings.
The group bagged hundreds of cigarette butts that had been tossed out of car windows, numerous wrappers, bottles, cans, cups, miscellaneous bits of plastic and metal, losing lottery tickets, a condom, three hubcaps, two crack pipes and a broken scissors blade. (That almost sounds like an old holiday song...)
As a result, that stretch of 13th Street between French and Sanford avenues looked much better – at least temporarily.
I went back out to the area a few days later and the litter had already started again. There were a few new tossed-out cans, bottles and wrappers. Ugh – it sometimes seems like a never-ending battle.
And on a newly mowed corner at Park Avenue and 13th Street, where there was an unmaintained lot with a building for sale, now stood an illegal snipe sign where there was not one last week.
Sanford bans snipe signs, those small placards usually made of corrugated cardboard and stuck into the ground on a couple of metal rods.
This all brings up a question about responsibility.
Why did the situation become so extreme that there is even a need for a community group to take things into its own hands to make improvements?
Most of the properties along busy 13th Street are appropriately cared for by the owners, but at a few places where the Beautification Gang focused, the owners seem not to care about how the neighborhood and roadway look.
When this lack of concern happens, other problems always seem to follow.
At some of the places the overgrown grass was taller than the business end of push mowers. Fortunately, someone in the gang brought a riding mower, too.
In fact, it was a relatively new couple in the area that wanted to help improve their new community. Len and Linda Surdin, who moved from California last fall, saw this as a way to become involved.
Streets and rights of way are overseen by governmental agencies for the common good and safety of the taxpayers, but owners are responsible for maintaining the right of way.
In this case, 13th Street in the city is also County Road 415 between French and Sanford avenues. On this stretch, the county is responsible for the maintenance of the road, and the city is in charge of the condition of the right of way.
It is not possible for the individual agencies to daily monitor and clean up problem areas. Government staff isn’t stacked that deeply
But it is necessary that government agencies hold owners accountable for unkempt property. Owners are required to maintain the property, such as keeping it mowed, even in the right of way.
If they don’t, the government can come in to mow and then bill the owner.
There shouldn't even be a need for a Beautification Gang to exist, if offending litterbugs would properly throw away their junk and property owners would not let their rights of way look like a wheat field.
Watch out! There's a new gang in town.
And its members soon are going to be on the loose again, on Feb. 28 at the corner of Palmetto Avenue and 3rd Street.
To be initiated into the gang, just show up at 9 a.m., and if you can, bring any tools you might need to use.
What I hope for is that the neglectful property owners start doing the work that needs to be done – and maybe one day there won’t be a need for this gang.
Over the top
Another unwelcoming view as people enter Sanford is visible right along 1st Street just west of downtown.
The high wall around an auto parts lot is there for a purpose: to block the view of what is inside. Wrecked cars, greasy axles, engine parts and such aren’t a great way to greet people coming into town.
But recently, a junker has been stacked so high on top of other vehicles inside that the wreckage is above the wall for all to view.
C’mon, take it down. Nobody wants to see a high-rise scrap heap.
Comments can be sent to Herald publisher Gene Kruckemyer at GKruckemyer@MySanfordHerald.com.