Throwing a couch off the side of the freeway in San Jose will soon result in a penalty of $ 10,000 – one of the highest in the country.
San Jose city council voted unanimously on Tuesday to increase first-offense fines for illegal dumping to $ 10,000. Currently the city has three levels for illegal dumping fines: $ 2,500 for the first offense, $ 5,000 for the second offense and $ 10,000 for the third offense.
“We are fully aware that fines and unfair enforcement can have unintended consequences,” said Council member Sergio Jimenez. “But it is evident that these same communities are already disproportionately affected by the negative consequences of the illegal dumping.”
Jimenez and council member Raul Peralez, who drafted the new policy, hope the fourfold increase in fines will make residents think twice before throwing trash in places like parks and homeless camps.
A big question for residents is how it will be applied. Council members said they feared city officials could not identify all illegal dumping violations and that without strict enforcement nothing would change.
Council member Maya Esparza said the new fines do not differentiate those who dump illegally because they have no resources.
âThey live in a life situation where garbage collection is not possible,â Esparza said. “If it weren’t for a free dump day, they’d have to get rid of it.”
Jimenez and Peralez have suggested that the city offer rewards to people who provide information about the illegal dumping to authorities. They also proposed to defer fines to inform the public of the increase, offering payment plans and fee waivers for those in financial difficulty and allowing them to participate in cleanups as a form of community service instead of pay a fine.
âThe fines are only part of this,â Jimenez said.
The duo also called for more state funding to work with the city to tackle the illegal dumping on highways. This has been a sore point for the city as the town hall often receives complaints about piles of garbage on land the city does not own and cannot clean up, leading agencies to point the finger at each other.
City leaders also reflected on issues of fairness, fearing the fines would hit communities of color harder. Language barriers, access to the city’s 311 app, and lack of access to a transportation company in lower-income neighborhoods could all be contributing factors.
A San Jose State University 2019 Study showed that while 85% of single-family households were aware of and used garbage collection services, this figure fell to just 50% among rental properties.
In recent years, San Jose has stepped up efforts to reduce blight, including the implementation of a illegal immersion patrol team through the city’s 311 app and an illegal landfill hotline that allows residents and businesses to report litter piles. But with most of the city’s operations halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, illegal dumping has increased and there are fewer staff to deal with it.
The city recorded an average of 543 monthly requests to clean up illegal landfill sites before the app launched in 2019, but this nearly tripled to 1,583 requests per month afterwards.
Reports from the city show that before the pandemic, cleanup crews routinely swept 70 hot spots a day, although San Jose has identified more than 160 problematic sites in the city.
Since the start of the pandemic, only 25 of the city’s most common landfills – sites with at least 13 illegal dumping incidents clustered together – have been cleaned up in an attempt to save time and money.
Still, how the fines would be enforced in addition to the city’s current efforts is less clear.
“We can do a thousand, ten thousand, or a hundred thousand, but how we’re going to catch people dumping is really the big deal,” Council member David Cohen said.
Council members discussed different solutions, such as resorting to the city code and implementing cameras, although they agreed it could be a costly solution.
And the city’s code enforcement division faces its own challenges, including a large backlog of complaints and a shortage of staff.
âI really think there is space for technology to be used to capture some of these people,â Jimenez said.
Council members agreed that the most critical part of the proposal is to make resources available to residents so that they can legally dispose of their garbage.
Homeless lawyer Robert Aguirre was concerned that the fines would disproportionately affect homeless residents and leave residents dumping their trash in homeless settlements.
âHomeless people are penalized for this stuff,â Aguirre said. “I’m afraid this will be used again to criminalize homeless people.”
Some residents such as Jeff Levine, who lives near Roosevelt Park, have long advocated for a stricter fine system to combat illegal dumping.
âThe city is doing a lot of things against illegal dumping,â Levine told the San JosÃ© Spotlight. âI hope they will continue to aggressively fund garbage collection programs. Now is not the time to back down. “
Jimenez and Peralez said they recognize how fines can distinguish poorer residents, and suggested council discuss “fair ways” to enforce fines and enforce behavior. Their colleagues agreed that Tuesday’s proposal was a good compromise between law enforcement and avoiding targeting the homeless.
To learn more about the city’s bulky item pick-up service for homeowners and tenants, visit recycling and garbage page.
Contact Lloyd Alaban at [emailÂ protected] or follow @lloydalaban on Twitter.