Oakland Gets Tough On Illegal Dumping

OAKLAND CITY COUNCIL//ILLEGAL DUMPING | The sight of dirty mattresses propped up by sign poles and piles of unattended refuse is getting on the nerves of many Oaklanders. Residents routinely complain illegal dumping on Oakland streets is ubiquitous and the mess may sit on city sidewalks for days, even weeks. “It begins to feel like no one cares,” said Oakland Councilmember Lynette McElhaney of the psychological toll the presence of garbage takes on the city’s residents.

On Tuesday, McElhaney and other members of the council, along with City Attorney Barbara Parker began crafting a strategy for containing the problem of illegal dumping. A proposed ordinance approved by the Public Works Committee Tuesday afternoon would designate illegal dumping as a public nuisance punishable by a misdemeanor. It would also fine those who illegal dump mattresses $1,000 on the first offense. The matter will be heard by the full council on Oct.1.

“We’ve had enough,” said McElhaney, who is not a member of the public works committee, but addressed it during public comment. “The message to those is we will prosecute you. We will pursue you in court.” Haulers located in Oakland and in neighboring cities illegally dumping in the city could be subject to stiff fines and possible seizure of their truck, according to the ordinance. However, the city attorney’s office told the committee the process by which seizures occur rests with the state. Before a vehicle could be seized, the owner must have two previous criminal convictions.

Nevertheless, there was no shortage of ideas for stemming illegal dumping, which many labeled not only a public works problem, but also one of health and safety. Councilmember Noel Gallo, undoubtedly the city’s most active critic of illegal dumping, called for a comprehensive strategy for cleaning up the city involving nearly every sector of government, and notably, residents themselves. The first-term District 5 council members can be seen every Saturday morning painting over graffiti, picking up liter and hauling mattresses. “Don’t just talk about it, but get your hands dirty,” Gallo urged.

There are other extenuating circumstances for why residents or unscrupulous haulers leave their trash in Oakland. The recent recession resulted in many evictions and belly-up mortgages. The cost of disposing large personal items is also prohibitive for some low-income earners. Gallo noted Oakland and neighboring San Leandro have some of the highest rates for dumping in the region. He also proposed lowering standards and permitting fees for haulers and deputizing some city workers to issue tickets to those who illegally dump. Gallo even suggested splitting the proceeds from fines between the city and residents who alert authorities to dumping as it occurs.

Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan urged the city to search out ways to subsidize a pilot program for special days when residents can drop off old mattresses for free. She also proposed creating a countywide registry of private haulers to track and regulate the local industry. She, like others on the public works committee, hammered the notion the council and their constituents have reached a breaking point when it comes to sullying the city’s streets. “You cannot trash Oakland,” said Kaplan, “and we won’t let you get away with trashing Oakland.”