Who is Being Targeted in Anti-Scavenging Law?

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ScavengingWhile the city expressed concern about organized groups that come from out of town, using trucks and crews of people to create their own illegal business with the revenue from scavenged property, the policy statements by the city and DWR on their Facebook page may tell a different story.

In Dianna Jensen’s presentation on January 14, 2014, she laid out the increasing concerns about organized scavenging operations brought about by increases in the value of recyclable materials and the economic downturn.

The number of complaints she cited was about 200 a year – a substantial and real number.  The cost to the city and the cost to Davis Waste Removal is tremendous in lost revenue to DWR and increased costs to city residents.

In the end, the council voted unanimously to approve the staff recommendation and move the ordinance for a second reading which was passed last week without a lot of additional discussion.

The problem, as we pointed out at the time, is the law doesn’t make the distinction that council and staff made between a simple homeless person collecting cans and organized bands of thieves.

In a discussion I had with one councilmember, I was told, “We cannot openly advocate for our police to look the other way on the dais.”  They believe that this is a step forward, that the police can simply issue a warning to members of the homeless community who are not part of the organized efforts.

“We are not systematically arresting and citing these folks with the bags of cans under the current law who are clearly in need and not professionally gleaning our neighborhoods for profits. Why would we start now?” I was told.

On February 4, on the “Davis Recycling” Facebook page that is run by DWR, they note, “Removing recyclable material from Davis Waste Removal carts is illegal. Starting on Feb 27, 2014, it will be an infraction with fines up to $500.”

The February 3 post is a bit more pointed, “Have you seen strangers rummaging through your recycling cart?”

The post continues, “Scavengers are not only stealing from Davis Waste Removal, they’re stealing from the residents and business owners of Davis, because the revenue generated from the sale of recyclables goes directly back to the rate payers in the form of lower service rates. Recycling service is provided at no extra cost to Davis ratepayers because the revenue from the recyclables subsidizes the cost for the collection. When scavengers steal the recycling, however, they remove that revenue and cut the funding to the recycling program.”

On the city’s web page – Scavenging Recyclables – it states that removing recyclables from carts and from trash is stealing.

“Recyclables placed at the curb shall become the property of the city or the city’s authorized recyclables collector at the time of the placement at the curb. Recyclables placed inside of commercial containers shall become the property of city-authorized waste collector at the time they are placed in the container.” (Davis Municipal Code 32.01.060)

“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 collector.” (Davis Municipal Code 32.01.060).

The city writes, “The problem isn’t just here in Davis. It’s an issue throughout California, which is why Assembly Bill (AB) 1778 was passed. AB 1778 requires scrap yards that buy $100 or more of CRV bottles and cans or $50 or more of newsprint, to document transactions and to pay for these materials by check. AB 1778 is designed to reduce organized recycling theft in California.”

“Locally, scavenging recyclables is a violation of Davis Municipal Code Section 32.01.060. Violators may be prosecuted and are subject to a fine,” the city’s website continues.  Again, as the DWR post says, “Scavengers are not only stealing from Davis Waste Removal, they’re stealing from the residents and business owners of Davis, because the revenue generated from the sale of recyclables goes directly back to the rate payers in the form of lower service rates. Recycling service is provided at no extra cost to Davis ratepayers because the revenue from the recyclables subsidizes the cost for the collection. When scavengers steal the recycling, however, they remove that revenue and cut the funding to the recycling program.”

They add, “So the next time you see someone scavenging through a recycling cart or bin, remember that it is a crime and you can do something about it.”

Nowhere in any of this language does it mention that the intent of the ordinance to is to deal with organized crime.

The site does direct you to a FAQ by the city and here for the first time, it mentions, “Scavenging is not just a way for some folks to make a little extra cash; it is also becoming a commercial operation. The City has received reports that organized crews from out of town are operating scavenging businesses. Scavengers come from out of town because they know that recycling theft is rarely enforced in Davis.”

The FAQ notes, “Litter and broken glass is often left on the ground after scavengers sort through a bin. Scavengers will often tip over carts, spilling contents, breaking glass and leaking liquids on the street and parking lots.”

They add, “Scavenging raises several safety and security issues. The City has received complaints of scavengers stealing recycling from side yards and garages. Customers also have concerns regarding identity theft, since scavengers may sort through mail and prescription pill bottles in recycling carts. The Police Department received over 200 calls regarding scavenging in 2013. A significant number of scavengers that officers made contact with have criminal records, some for identity theft crimes.”

It concludes, “Scavenging negatively affects the City’s State-Mandated Diversion Rate as scavengers will often move recyclables into the trash while searching for CRV. Recyclables placed in the trash are sent to the landfill and buried.”

The city’s FAQ, therefore, is roughly in line with the staff report; however, DWR’s language is not.

The city, of course, could have dealt with this, establishing thresholds for the enacting the ordinance and stricter penalties for organized crews in trucks, but instead made a blanket ordinance where the public is encouraged to turn in anyone who is scavenging, not just organized crews.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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34 thoughts on “Who is Being Targeted in Anti-Scavenging Law?”

  1. Tia Will

    I find it difficult to believe that language could not have been crafted so as to differentiate an illegal business model from the individual attempting to generate a small amount of income for their personal use. I strongly oppose what I perceive as a more concerted public effort to “criminalize” poverty whether the manifestation is homelessness, or scavenging, or panhandling. Recently we have seen prominent members of our community demeaning the homeless during City Council public comments. In a city in which we have such abundance, I would think that perhaps instead of criminalizing and dehumanizing ( I am referencing some previously edited posts on this forum) we might want to spend some time focusing on how we, as a community, might better help the less fortunate amongst us. I see Robb Davis as a real leader in this area and would urge any who have strong feelings about this issue from either side to consider supporting and reaching out to work with Robb on this issue.

    1. Mr. Toad

      You could easily craft it to get bigger actors by including the use of a vehicle in the ordinance. Lucas smartly asked this question but was told by the police chief that wasn’t possible. The city attorney followed up responding that the council could craft such an ordinance.

      This staff report is a good example of the staff crafting the message in a way that prevents independent action by the council.

  2. iPad Guy

    The conversation you had with the council member is intriguing. I thought the reason this new ordinance was needed was to enable citation and prosecution for scavenging. So, why would we be assured that we’re choosing not to hassle the little guys at this point?

    Am I reading too much into the comments if I think the subtle meaning is that we’ll enforce differently for different types of offenders once the new ordinance is in place, but that we can’t say that publicly?


    “…the revenue generated from the sale of recyclables goes directly back to the rate payers in the form of lower service rates. Recycling service is provided at no extra cost to Davis ratepayers….”

    I’d be interested in the specifics of the revenue involved at each step of the way. When I take my cans to Davis Waste Removal, they are weighed and I’m given some small amount based on the weight. When I realized it might be only a penny so can or so, I stopped wasting the carbon.

    When I take my cans to the collection points (at every grocery store) in Oregon, I get the same amount I paid in deposit, a nickle a can or bottle.

    Obviously the two states have different schemes for how consumers get back their deposits (or don’t) and how collections are funded. Wonder how they differ in the way the money flows, whether DWR gets something beyond the basic metal and glass values of our returnable cans and bottles and how much DWR reduces our rates for each can and bottle.

  3. growth issue

    Ipad
    “Am I reading too much into the comments if I think the subtle meaning is that we’ll enforce differently for different types of offenders once the new ordinance is in place, but that we can’t say that publicly?”

    That’s how I see it too, the letter of the law vrs. the spirit of the law

    1. Tia Will

      Or how about seen in a different light. The benefits of the law vs the adverse consequences of the law.
      Does the law promote a view of our laws as just and enforceable or as something to be variably applied ?
      Is the law the best possible use of police time and energy ?
      Does the law criminalize an activity that should not be necessary for anyone in the first place to get by ?
      Will the cost of enforcement cost as much or more than the intended savings for those viewing this as a financial issue ?

      1. growth issue

        Medwoman, do you think the points you’re making should also apply to the fireplace smoke ordinance? I mean we have neighbor turning in neighbor even though some poor schmuk might just be having a warm fire on a cold night and not be a habitual burner. What’s the cost of enforcing that and is it the best possible use of police time and energy? As you say does the law promote a view of our laws as just and enforceable or as something to be variably applied?

        1. SouthofDavis

          I’ve noticed that most people feel laws should be enforced based on their political views. Most on the left don’t want the laws against taking cans enforced just like most on the right don’t want laws against fireplace smoke enforced.

          I’m betting that (like most on the left) Tia does not want free speech laws to apply to crazy Christians surrounding abortion clinics protesting and growth issue (like most on the right) does not want free speech laws to apply to crazy ACT Up activists surrounding churches protesting…

          1. Tia Will

            South of Davis

            You are incorrect. I absolutely want “free speech laws to be upheld” regardless of the message of the speaker..
            I am one who would gag while doing so, but would defend the right of
            the Westboro Baptist Church to spew their hate filled message in public as I have stated on several previous threads in which freedom of speech came up.

            What I also believe is that a buffer distance should be observed so that they are unable to block, physically obstruct or “button hole” people as they attempt to access care or attend a funeral. They have the right to free speech, and anyone accessing a clinic, church, or graveyard has the right to do so without someone in their face “just trying to share their view”.

          2. SouthofDavis

            Tia wrote:

            > You are incorrect. I absolutely want “free speech laws
            > to be upheld” regardless of the message of the speaker.

            Nice to hear that but will you admit that people like us that want total free speech are rare with “most” on the left wanting to prohibit Christians from telling woman going in to Planned Parenthood that they are sl*ts and “most” on the right wanting to prohibit atheists from telling Christians going in to church that they are idiots for believing in a “Sky Genie”.

            > I am one who would gag while doing so, but would
            > defend the right of the Westboro Baptist Church to
            > spew their hate filled message in public

            You have to admit that your views are not common since 99% of the people I know on the right “and” left want to stop the Westboro Baptist Church from yelling “God hates Fa*gs” at military funerals….

          3. Tia Will

            South of Davis

            I cannot “admit” to what I do not know. I have not talked with “the majority” of those on either the right or the left to know what their views truly are. I know only what you know, which is the sound bites that hit the press and what our very limited number of acquaintances say. Also, I doubt that many on either side would choose to censor the Westboro Baptist Church. There is a difference in wanting them to stop, or express themselves in a different venue, and wanting to make them do so. Here is where I believe the stereotypes of what the right or the left want loses the nuances of what people actually believe when they are not just lobbing slogans at each other or
            “echo chambering” with their friends.

          4. David Greenwald Post author

            I think your drawing a broad net there when the left is fairly diverse in its viewpoints. My personal view point is that we should frame laws to solve the problems they need to solve. So don’t craft a law that will get everyone if you’re really targeting a subset of the crimes. And don’t say you are targeting only a small subset of the crimes, if your law targets everyone.

          5. SouthofDavis

            David wrote:

            > I think your drawing a broad net there when the
            > left is fairly diverse in its viewpoints.

            It warms my heart every time someone on the left or right moves away from the “party line” (you have to admit that few on the left support what you are doing to the fire union)but I think you will have to call a lot of elected officials with a “D” after their name before you get even one to go on the record supporting the arrest of homeless people “stealing” cans from recycle bins and you will probably never find an elected official with a ‘R” after their name that will go on record saying it is fine with them if the homeless take as many cans as they want from their constitutes recycle bins…

        2. Tia Will

          Gi

          I see some similarities and some differences in the two situations.
          So first, do I believe that either ordinance is optimal ? No.
          Further, I believe that no ordinance would ever be necessary if people were always thoughtful not only of their own benefit, but how their actions might affect their neighbors.

          So pelt’s take the wood burning situation. Let’s suppose that I enjoy having a wood fire. So I find out whether or not any of my immediate neighbors have any concerns about my burning. I find out the my next door neighbor has a son with severe asthma. Would it really be too much for me to coordinate with my neighbor to maximize my enjoyment while minimizing his risk. A conversation might go something like ” Hi, it’s chilly tonight and we were thinking of burning some logs, will that work for your son ?” The answer might be something like “Oh, that’s perfect because he is going on a sleep over tonight” or like ” would you mind making it tomorrow instead ? We are having family over tonight and his grandfather has COPD so tonight is not so good. A little empathy and collaboration from both sides could obviate the need for any city intervention if everyone did it.

          With regard to the management of recyclables there seem to be a number of different considerations all the way from my position which is I don’t really care who gets the benefits of turning in my recyclables. I would just as soon that they were redeemed by whomever will benefit the most by doing so across an entire range to those who see it as “theft” conveniently ignoring the fact that we are the one’s who make and or approve the votes either directly or indirectly with our votes. Again, I would prefer a collaborative system. One poster had mentioned an individual solution of placing their redeemable recyclables clearly labelled as available where they could be seen by scavengers who could avail themselves if they chose. This avoids the accusation of theft, prevents perceived risk of identity theft by avoiding having scavengers go through other recycling. I think it is most likely that individuals looking for a little extra money are going to prefer not having to sort through mixed recycle to find the the cans. Again, I believe that compassion and collaboration will trump poorly enforceable ordinances every time, but only if substantial numbers of people participate.

          Finally, there is one other very important difference in play in these two cases.
          Wood burning can have a definite detrimental effect on the health of susceptible individuals, often children, the elderly, or those with chronic illness who may not have the ability to change their behaviors to mitigate the adverse consequences.
          With the recycling, there are other strategies that could be employed by most, although not all households such as recycling your self or making the above noted
          “donation” to the poor.

  4. Just me

    What stops the “prefessional” scavengers from grabbing a shopping cart and heading out on their seperate directions posiing as homeless scavengers gathering the recyclables and all meeting at one place to converge and move on???

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      I don’t see this as a simple problem, simple solution, but right now the people most likely targeted are going to be low level, homeless, marginal types for whom a fine is not going to prevent and just cause more problems down the line.

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          The problem is that if they get a call, they really can’t look the other way which is why the communications coming from DWR are cretical.

  5. Phil Coleman

    The “assistance of vehicle” stipulation in an ordinance enactment is quite creative and would surely give some distinction in how the law would be applied. But how does the presence or absence of a vehicle be legally justified unless it was addeded to control the amount of booty being swiped? If that were the real intent, we’d just mimic existing legislation that attachs a dollar value to the loss, and the degree of penalty.

    Simply stated, you can’t partially legalize criminal theft. You can’t pass a law with a “wink-wink” clause. Yes, it used to be done (e.g., poll tax) but that pesky thing called the U.S. Constitution says you can’t favor or bias towards a particular class anymore.

    But suppose we did it anyway. That opens up an even bigger can of worms, how you define that homeless person getting a pass, and everybody else, not. Come up with a list of standards for qualifications perhaps and have the City issue a “license to steal” perhaps. Don’t bother. It would still be stricken down as Unconstitutional.

    We should re-direct energies towards improving the lot of the homeless somewhere else. This is wasted energy and offers only a false promise. Perhaps one might try a NEW ordinance allocating a percentage of the recycle revenue towards homeless relief measures. Now, that would be legal.

    1. Tia Will

      “Perhaps one might try a NEW ordinance allocating a percentage of the recycle revenue towards homeless relief measures. Now, that would be legal.”

      And compassionate and collaborative – there’s an ordinance I could support.

    2. iPad Guy

      Thanks for the reality check. Hadn’t considered that the “wink-wink” hinted by the city councilman might end up being used by the defense for the supposedly targeted (high-volume, identify thieving, garbage tossing) offender.

      It would be good to see a breakdown of the numbers cited as justification for this new approach. Is it possible that existing laws could be used to deal with the (likely) small number of offenders who are stealing from garages and private yards?

      The fact that “scavengers may sort through mail and prescription pill bottles in recycling carts” could be pretty scary, I guess. There might be embarrassing items in my recycling, but I can’t remember the last time I included anything that could jeopardize my identity privacy.

  6. Michelle Millet

    Regardless of the appropriateness of citing homeless people for scavenging, this Facebook targets them, or other “mom and pop” scavengers, not the organized large operations. I don’t know if this was the intention but I’m concerned that the tone is too aggressive, divisive, and inflammatory.

      1. Michelle Millet

        Here is a link to the Facebook Page, the post was one of two made Feb 3.

        I’m going to write a lithe more because I learned from an experience WDF1 had that if posts with links are two short then they get flagged as SPAM and need to get approved by the a moderator before the get posted. Hopefully I’ve written enough…

        https://www.facebook.com/DavisRecycling.org

  7. Davis Progressive

    i’m disappointed that advocates of the poor – many of them on the council did not bounce this back to staff with a better background on social issues than the water staff.

    1. iPad Guy

      Agree, but isn’t it too late? From the city “scavenging” page:

      “In January 2014, the Davis City Council adopted an ordinance to update the City Municipal Code regarding scavenging.”

  8. gordonite

    So this is a state-wide issue and is not going to be solved all hodge podge. It seems like the cities and waste collectors affected by this would be better off putting their efforts into organizing a state-wide solution.

    I don’t know much about the CRV system but here’s how I imagine it should work.
    Every collection center pays out the same rates state-wide. That amount is a fraction of the full CRV, and the collection center puts the remainder into an operating budget pool that is redistributed state-wide. That way, if scavengers take from one city and redeem in another, the collection centers get the same return.

    If the cities have collection services, then they can keep the CRV, minus the state-wide budget fraction. They can use this for their collection services budget and whatever else. If it’s not paying off, then they leave it for the citizens and private sector to sort out.

    If the state wants to put disincentives into scavenging, then impose taxes on bulk redemption without a scavenging permit.

    I’m skeptical of big state-wide operations, but it seems better than arresting hobos and making scavenging illegal.

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