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Can Oakland successfully curb illegal dumping?

For over a decade, Oakland has attempted to abate the illegal dumping of mattresses, electronics, furniture, and other large items onto city streets. The phenomenon is a problem throughout the Bay Area, but noticeably worse in Oakland.

One reason for that is the city’s location as a crossroads in the East Bay. Freeway entrances and exits prove to be attractive spots for anyone, especially out-of-towners, to take care of their dirty business and illegally dump items.

Credit Todd Whitney
Pile of dumped materials at 5th and Adeline in West Oakland

The city has a new contract with its garbage collector, Waste Management. As of July 1st, Oakland residents get one free bulky pick-up per unit per year.

“We want to make sure that when we do a bulky service that it does not add more illegal dumping. Because once a pile’s out there, if it’s not done correctly, you’ll have someone driving by who dumps their stuff. And that becomes a bigger, larger problem, and that’s what we’re trying to avoid,” says David Tucker, Director of Government and Community Relations for Waste Management.

Credit Todd Whitney
Oakland Public Works' West Oakland Pick-ups. One day.

In addition to Oakland’s new garbage contract, the city has tried a number of prevention techniques to thwart illegal dumping. Those measures include installing security cameras in hotspots, upgrading the crime from a citation to a misdemeanor, and increasing the amount of financial responsibility dumpers bear.

But some Oakland residents aren’t convinced that a new garbage contract will lead to fewer dumped materials on the streets. One of them is Councilmember Noel Gallo. He organizes weekly clean-ups by individuals and businesses in his Fruitvale District, but he feels more should be done.

Credit Todd Whitney
A parade of dumped shopping carts

Gallo says the city should take a tougher stance on catching and prosecuting dumpers.

“It's not a priority. It takes eight months to a year and it goes on,” says Gallo.

Incentivizing citizens to report dumpers can assist the city in resolving the problem. Gallo says the city is looking to begin a new program where anyone who calls in an illegal dumper who is successfully prosecuted will receive half of the fine as a cash reward.

Officials with Oakland Public Works operate under what’s known as the ‘broken windows theory’. That means they view illegally-dumped materials as blight that can attract more blight. And the same sentiment is echoed by other Oakland residents.

“There's stuff dumped everywhere and it's frustrating and we're trying to make it better and more appealing,” says Amber Brown.

The issue isn’t just happening in Oakland, but all over the state. Last fall a state bill passed that will force mattress manufacturers to provide mattress-recycling services to cities for free.

But that doesn’t start until 2016. So until then, get comfy with the sight of mattresses around Oakland.

Want to report illegal dumping in Oakland? Click Here.

Todd is a radio producer from Chicagoland. Before arriving at KALW in 2013 he produced works for NPR's Tell Me More. He currently roams the Bay Area searching for stories and super sonics.