Oak­land tries to get a jump on dumpers

Garbage Blitz teams see­ing early suc­cess as city shifts tac­tics on il­le­gal dis­posal

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - BAY AREA - By Kim­berly Vek­lerov

A pi­lot pro­gram to beat back the scourge of il­le­gal dump­ing is start­ing to see suc­cess on the streets of Oak­land, where piles of dis­carded mat­tresses, couches and garbage have mul­ti­plied in re­cent years, ac­cord­ing to city data.

Un­til about 10 months ago, pickup crews mostly re­lied on a com­plaint­based sys­tem in which they would clean an area when some­one opened a ser­vice re­quest. Now, the city Pub­lic Works Depart­ment also is proac­tively send­ing Garbage Blitz teams to sweep neigh­bor­hoods, mov­ing block by block to pick up lit­ter be­fore it’s called in.

The work is slower, and it can take weeks for crews to move through an en­tire district. But city of­fi­cials say the pro­gram ap­pears to be de­ter­ring peo­ple from dump­ing in the first place.

“We’re out there clean­ing more of­ten. We’re turn­ing il­le­gal dump­ing hot spots to clean spots,” said Ja­son Mitchell, the pub­lic works direc­tor. “Peo­ple feel more com­fort­able dump­ing on dirty streets than clean

“We’re out there clean­ing more of­ten. We’re turn­ing il­le­gal dump­ing hot spots to clean spots.” Ja­son Mitchell, direc­tor of Oak­land’s Pub­lic Works Depart­ment


The move comes as the city pre­pares to bring back its lit­ter en­force­ment of­fi­cers, who were elim­i­nated dur­ing bud­get cuts in 2010.

In three zones of East and West Oak­land where the neigh­bor­hood sweep pro­gram was pi­loted, the amount of trash that crews had to haul away on a daily ba­sis de­clined each month they were there, ac­cord­ing to data re­viewed by The Chron­i­cle.

In District Six of East Oak­land, crews en­coun­tered a daily av­er­age of 8,600 pounds of trash in March. By May, the num­ber dipped to 5,400.

Re­sults were fruit­ful in other neigh­bor­hoods. In an­other zone of

East Oak­land, trash was cut from 4,800 pounds daily in Septem­ber to 4,600 in Oc­to­ber. In West Oak­land, crews went from haul­ing away 6,600 pounds of trash daily in June to 5,800 by Au­gust.

Crews were log­ging the same or higher mileage. There was just less stuff for them to pick up.

A few tech­no­log­i­cal fixes may have im­proved ef­fi­ciency, too, Mitchell said. This time last year, pub­lic works trucks had to wait in line at a waste trans­fer sta­tion like any other cit­i­zen ve­hi­cle. Now, the city trucks are out­fit­ted with the same elec­tronic sen­sors as those be­long­ing to Waste Man­age­ment, the city con­trac­tor that hauls res­i­den­tial garbage.

“We’re able to get in and out of the dump in 15 min­utes, whereas be­fore it may have taken a lit­tle longer,” Mitchell said.

Pub­lic works will ex­pand the proac­tive pi­lot pro­gram into ev­ery neigh­bor­hood of the city in com­ing weeks, although it won’t sup­plant the old sys­tem. City of­fi­cials ex­pect to have 25 em­ploy­ees con­tin­u­ing to do “erad­i­ca­tion” work — re­spond­ing to com­plaints — and 11 oth­ers on the new Garbage Blitz team. Those two di­vi­sions are on top of eight em­ploy­ees who ex­clu­sively clean home­less en­camp­ments.

“If we go fully proac­tive, it could take a week or two to get to a lo­ca­tion,” Mitchell said. “If we know a pile ex­ists, we don’t want it sit­ting there that long.”

The hy­brid sys­tem brings Oak­land more in line with San Francisco, which has reg­u­lar street clean­ing crews that pick up il­le­gal dump­ing as well as crews as­signed to hot spots. Like Oak­land, San Francisco also has a com­plaint-based side and a team ded­i­cated to home­less en­camp­ment cleans.

In ad­di­tion to proac­tive pick­ups, Oak­land is now hold­ing “bulky block par­ties” once a month for res­i­dents to drop off tires, elec­tronic waste, mat­tresses and other items for free. They’ve in­creased in pop­u­lar­ity since they be­gan in Au­gust, with more cars drop­ping off more junk as word has spread, city data show.

Ed­u­cat­ing the com­mu­nity on how to dis­pose of waste prop­erly and levy­ing ci­ta­tions on per­pe­tra­tors is just as im­por­tant as get­ting rid of trash on the streets, Mitchell said. The ed­u­ca­tion com­po­nent is key, he said, be­cause much of the dump­ing comes from Oak­land res­i­dents.

A 2017 study found that 55 per­cent of ma­te­rial in piles was res­i­den­tial waste — things like food, fur­ni­ture and house­hold ap­pli­ances.

The city of ori­gin of 63 per­cent of trash couldn’t be iden­ti­fied. But of the por­tion that could be traced geo­graph­i­cally, more than three-quar­ters came from within Oak­land.

Mayor Libby Schaaf said the is­sue makes her an­gry. Be­hav­ior and norms have to change for il­le­gal dump­ing to end, Schaaf said.

“I per­son­ally find it out­ra­geous that any­one could pos­si­bly think it’s ap­pro­pri­ate to put their garbage in some­one else’s neigh­bor­hood,” she said. “It is of­fen­sive, and it is an in­sult to the good fam­i­lies that live in these neigh­bor­hoods.”

The over­all amount of dump­ing in Oak­land is on the rise. In the 2012-13 fis­cal year, crews had 17,870 pick­ups, or 49 a day. That num­ber has grown steadily each year, and by 2016-17 it was 32,996, or 90 pick­ups a day.

Catch­ing per­pe­tra­tors is dif­fi­cult. Since 2013, the city has is­sued 296 ci­ta­tions for il­le­gal dump­ing, ac­cord­ing to Greg Mi­nor, whose of­fice han­dles nui­sance abate­ment.

What’s driv­ing the in­crease is not clear. Mitchell and Schaaf said it could be partly Waste Man­age­ment in­creas­ing its res­i­den­tial garbage fees.

Other fac­tors could be the growth of the city’s over­all pop­u­la­tion and the num­ber of home­less en­camp­ments, Mitchell said.

An­other rea­son, he said, could be that just be­fore the re­cent uptick, the city had elim­i­nated its lit­ter en­force­ment of­fi­cers. Now the city is re­boot­ing the pro­gram and hir­ing four of­fi­cers and a su­per­vi­sor. The work­ers are ex­pected to act as trash de­tec­tives — go­ing through piles and video sur­veil­lance footage to track per­pe­tra­tors.

Il­le­gal dump­ing is con­cen­trated in the poorer flat­lands of the city, par­tic­u­larly in East Oak­land, city data show. Many com­mu­nity mem­bers and or­ga­ni­za­tions have said the re­ac­tivev­er­sus-proac­tive clean­ing ap­proach was an is­sue of racial eq­uity. Those most af­fected by dump­ing on their streets might not have the means to open ser­vice re­quests or know how to do it.

The sheer vol­ume of trash on the streets has led some, like East Oak­land res­i­dent Mary Forte, to pick up garbage on their own.

“It just gives you a feel­ing that peo­ple don’t care about East Oak­land and where they live. They have no pride in the city that they would do things like this, and they’ll do it in cer­tain neigh­bor­hoods but not oth­ers,” Forte said. “They wouldn’t dump it right in front of their own house, so why would they do it in other peo­ple’s neigh­bor­hoods?”

Forte, a 69-year-old re­tiree who is ac­tive in the East Oak­land Congress of Neigh­bor­hoods and other vol­un­teer or­ga­ni­za­tions, has adopted her own spot through a city pro­gram that en­cour­ages res­i­dents to reg­u­larly clean a par­tic­u­lar pub­lic space.

Forte ap­plauded the ex­pan­sion of the new proac­tive pick­ups but said the pace of hir­ing new work­ers has been too slow.

Mitchell said he un­der­stood the frus­tra­tion of com­mu­nity mem­bers.

“It’s just bad to live in a neigh­bor­hood or go to school or go to my mar­ket with a pile of trash there,” he said. “Even­tu­ally, we want to get to the beau­ti­fi­ca­tion of Oak­land, where you see our work­ers, in­stead of clean­ing up piles of de­bris, they’re plant­ing flow­ers and putting in flower beds and beau­ti­fy­ing neigh­bor­hoods.”

Pho­tos by Lea Suzuki / The Chron­i­cle

Oak­land main­te­nance worker Ayinde Osayaba pre­pares to haul away a chair aban­doned on the street.

David Conti (left), a Keep Oak­land Clean and Beau­ti­ful worker, gath­ers ca­ble as co-worker Osayaba car­ries the dis­carded chair to their truck.

Lea Suzuki / The Chron­i­cle

Oak­land work­ers Ayinde Osayaba (left) and David Conti load a dis­carded head­board into a truck.

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