Illegal dumping in Oakland has reached a point where it may be a traffic and health hazard for residents.
Last year alone, Oakland’s Public Works Agency cleaned up 1,624 tons of illegally dumped garbage and received 11,500 service calls regarding the waste, according to Safety and Training Administrator, Kristine Shaff. Shaff said the garbage collected by Public Works does not include the trash picked up by Waste Management or by private property owners.
“It’s actually a hazard for driving, because you don’t know what’s in it,” said Linda Little, an Oakland resident who frequently passes a dumping hot spot outside of Mills College.
The dumping spot that Little is forced to pass on a weekly basis is behind the Mills Art Museum.Little thinks the dumping could be minimized if the dark underpass, located beneath the 580, had better lighting.
The majority of the illegal dumping problem lies in pockets of Oakland such as Prescott Neighborhood and the Ralph Bunche neighborhood, both located west of Market Street and south of Grand Ave, the issue has become so widespread that dumpers continue to trash the streets in broad daylight.
Core Foods, a company that distributes healthy on-the-go snacks to Whole Foods and other natural food stores, has taken matters into its own hands. The company office, located in the Ralph Bunche neighborhood, is a targeted spot for dumpers.
According to Core Foods founder, Corey Rennel, dumping in the area has become relentless enough to drive them to adopt the street their business is located on, Poplar Street. Similar to Caltrans’ Adopt-A-Highway program, adopting the street will provide the business with the tools and resources necessary to clean up the waste, as well as graffiti and street damages.
Rennel said dumping in front of his office happens on a weekly basis. Rennel spoke on the phone with the Public Works Agency, requesting a pick up for the pile of construction debris that had been dumped on his doorstep over the weekend.
“This is where we work everyday, and we want it to look nice,” Rennel said, regarding his decision to adopt Poplar Street.
Rennel’s assistant, Dave Echel, called the problem a “culture of dumping.” The more people dump their trash illegally and get away with it, the more acceptable it becomes for others to follow.
According to Shaff, most of the dumping does not even come from Oakland residents. She says that people hear about the accessibility to secluded dumping spots in Oakland, and bring their trash there as opposed to a dump where they would have to pay.
Public Works has taken the issue as far as posting a billboard that reads “Dump Your Boyfriend in Oakland but Not Your Couch.”
A $1,000 fine is the punishment if one is caught dumping illegally, however few people are ever convicted. Dumpers must actually be witnessed, and reported. However, even after that, offenders can be hard to track down.
Shaff said that another problem with dumping is that “the more we pick it up, the more people dump.” Dumpers have no need for remorse or guilt when they know the heap of their dumping will be picked up within the week.
Shaff also cites the “Broken Window Theory” as an explanation for why illegal dumping continues. The theory predicts that if one window is broken in an urban neighborhood, graffiti and litter will follow. This idea also extends to serious crime; where petty crime is common, serious crime will follow. Core Foods aims to reverse such a cycle through the adoption of Poplar Street.
Oakland residents have one free bulky pick-up each year. Most residents either do not know about the pick-up or they choose to ignore it, said Shaff. Between this free resource and other Public Works events, such as the Bulky Item Drop Off Event on Sept 29, Shaff believes that there is no excuse for people to dump their waste.
Public Works urges Oakland residents to report any activity of illegal dumping to the public call center at (510) 615-5566. If you do have any waste that needs to be dumped, Waste Management of Alameda County will provide your household a one time pickup for waste that cannot exceed three cubic yards.