On Tuesday’s city council agenda is an item that has not gotten a lot of attention. The city is putting forth an anti-scavenging ordinance, arguing it “supports the fiscal principle of cost effective service delivery and the sustainability principle of conserving resources in an environmentally responsible manner.”
According to the staff report the existing problem is quite simple: “The City of Davis and Davis Waste Removal (DWR) receive numerous complaints from customers citing organized scavenging groups rummaging through their trash and recycling carts, stealing recyclables, and leaving behind a mess.”
“Some scavengers have even ventured onto private property to steal recyclables from customer garages and side yards,” the staff report continues. “This type of activity removes available recycling funds from the City and is not consistent with the intent of the California Redemption Value (CRV) program developed and administered by CalRecycle.”
The problem is that the city is claiming that it “does not include adequate enforcement or penalty clause provisions.”
The city proposes, “Amending the language in the Code in order to facilitate enforcement of the City’s Anti-Scavenging Ordinance will be beneficial for customers as well as the City’s solid waste management efforts.”
The violation would be an infraction and it carries with it the proposed fines: one hundred dollars ($100) for the first violation, two hundred dollars ($200) for the second violation, and five hundred dollars ($500) for the third and subsequent violations occurring within a one-year period.
The city clarifies, “This regulation applies to materials placed inside containers provided by City’s authorized waste and recycling collector. It does not limit the right of any person to donate, sell or otherwise dispose of his or her own recyclable materials.”
In some jurisdictions, these laws have meant that once placed within the receptacle or on the curb, the city would own the waste. Here, “garbage and other containerized solid wastes shall remain the property of the generator until the material is removed from the container by the city or the city’s authorized waste collector.”
Later the proposed law states, “It is unlawful for anyone other than the city’s authorized collector or a person designated by the Public Works Director to remove or otherwise interfere with recyclable materials which have been placed at the curb or in commercial containers.”
There are of course issues of nuisance caused by scavenging for recyclables or scrap metal, and the interest of course in protecting the city’s recycling funds, but not mentioned or addressed in this staff report is the social cost.
There is no research or analysis of the impact on the homeless population in this community.
In my time covering the courts, one of the biggest rising crime categories is the stealing of recyclable material or scrap metal. Some of this is fueled by the need for people to support their drug habits. But some of it is fueled by the economy, the lack of jobs and other avenues for getting small amounts of money for food or non-food items.
An old newspaper clipping from the Associated Press tells of a story from Madison, Wisconsin, where “An impoverished refugee woman’s arrest for scavenging through garbage cans in search of recyclable items has angered advocates for the poor and raised questions about who has the right to turn trash into cash.”
The article quotes the director of a Green Bay homeless shelter who argued, “The right to eat… takes precedence over the city’s right. I don’t see why the city has to pit itself against the poor… This is a way for them to eke out a living without panhandling.”
Let me put it this way. I understand it is nuisance at times for people to scavenge through the garbage. I understand that there are security and other concerns.
Interestingly enough, the city argues that we do not have adequate laws to deal with it, but uses as an argument that “some scavengers have even ventured onto private property to steal recyclables from customer garages and side yards.”
There is already a law against trespassing.
It would also be helpful to see the city document how big a problem this is. How many complaints have they received? Is this simply a nuisance problem that leaves behind a mess?
And can we find better ways to deal with such a problem other than simply creating a law that, once again, seems to legislate against homeless people and the poor during a time where we are still in deep recession?
Sadly, none of these issues were even broached in the staff report and it seems like we should at least discuss them and figure out how big a problem this is, before we make another law increasing the burden on the homeless.
—David M. Greenwald reporting