Don’t be lulled to sleep by the soft-spoken, waist-high kid in the green Crocs. Aiden Zahedi gets things done. The same could be said of his friend, teenager Niamh Dawes and their siblings and friends in Kings Mountain. If you have a problem with the government, you might ask them to shame a bureaucrat into doing the right thing.
Niamh and Aiden spend a lot of time in their family cars, going back and forth over highways 35 and 92. They can’t help but see what adults have done to what should be one of the most scenic drives in the Bay Area. Soda cans, beer bottles, candy wrappers and more litter the roadside, and, at the turnouts, trashy people dump bigger things like old mattresses and toxic electronics.
This month, they had finally had enough. It was obvious the state transportation agency wasn’t going to do anything about it. Aiden says he knows the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office is aware of the dumping but hasn’t lifted a finger. It was time for kid power.
They talked about the problem on the Kings Mountain message board, then they organized a Zoom conference to discuss what to do. They raised money — $1,200 at this writing — toward an ongoing cleanup effort. Then they dropped a dime on San Mateo County Supervisor Don Horsley. He was impressed by the enterprising kids. He gave them contacts at Republic Services, which owns the nearby Ox Mountain landfill, and Caltrans. The next day, apparently goaded by elected officials, Caltrans carted off the largest hunks of junk. And the kids organized their neighbors to go out on Saturday and finish the job. More than two dozen friends worked the turnouts nearest to Highway 92, picking up whatever the Caltrans crew left behind. Republic waived dumping fees for the community effort and even gave them some trash bags and reflective vests.
Aiden and Niamh are sharp enough to know that one week’s effort will not be enough to keep the roadway clean. They are talking about how to use the money they raised. Aiden speaks of “hostile architecture,” an art term that urban planners use to describe a built environment that guides people toward better behavior.
Did we mention that Aiden is 10?
Saturday’s community action along Skyline was one of the most beautiful local events we’ve seen in these pandemic-wrecked months. Neighbors — some of whom didn’t know one another a week ago — came together for the collective good. They didn’t argue about politics or whether to wear a mask or even if cleaning a state highway was their concern. They were guided by a couple of very smart kids who helped them fix a problem they saw every day.
It wasn’t a Christmas miracle. But it’s not a bad story for this penultimate week of a very long year.
— Clay Lambert