Saying illegal dumping has become a big problem in Ceres, several residents voiced their concerns at Monday evening’s City Council meeting that the city doesn’t deal with eyesores quick enough.
Linnie Smith, vice president of The Parks gated community’s homeowners association next to Mae Hensley Junior High on Moffett has had to recently endure the eyesore of growing piles of debris dumped at the curb and sidewalk.
Smith said the complex is considering putting up surveillance cameras and wanted to know if or how the city could assist in apprehending suspects. She said she took pictures and took down a license plate of a dumper from Modesto but never heard if police did anything with it.
“I just want to know what type of support we’re going to get from the council and from our police department,” Smith asked.
City Manager Toby Wells said he spoke to leaders of The Parks Homeowners Association and encouraged them to install cameras and said the city is also considering them to tackle the problem all over Ceres.
“We’ll support their efforts and hope to tackle that head-on,” said Wells.
He said the city is tidying up the municipal code to better delineate what constitutes illegal dumping. When Smith suggested signs, Wells said he has seen debris accumulate next to signage which forbids the practice.
Wells said the city wants to catch illegal dumpers and “make some examples out of the folks who are doing this.”
Senior citizen Dorothy Clayton complained that mattresses have blocked the sidewalk in front of her community, preventing her from walking.
“It’s really dangerous to have those out there,” said Clayton.
“Yeah dumping is really bad and lots of luck catching those,” said Dave Pratt, who suspects most are doing the illegal deed at night. “I hope you do catch some.”
Ceres newcomer Marla Cudney said she was surprised to see “month after month this dump pile growing in front of this nice condominium townhouse living community that I just moved into.” She asked if the garbage hauler could pick up the items. She was told that standard dump trucks are automated and only pick up cans; that a special truck and crew has to pick up large items and piles.
The city does have a bulky item pickup program for Ceres residents, which is provided by Bertollotti Ceres Disposal.
“This isn’t an issue that’s specific to Ceres,” City Manager Toby Wells explained to Cudney. “This is an issue that every community is wrestling with and it’s an ongoing challenge. It’s not just your location. There are many other locations in town.”
“It’s like one officer told me years ago, when you start taking money out of somebody’s back pocket, most people start listening."Gene Yeakley
Gene Yeakley pressed the city for action, saying he wants to see more citations.
“It’s like one officer told me years ago, when you start taking money out of somebody’s back pocket, most people start listening,” said Yeakley, who suggested the city get out the message in English and Spanish in the utility billing.
Mayor Chris Vierra said such notices would be ineffective, saying he feels most illegal dumping is done by those who either don’t pay for garbage service or those who live out of town.
Yeakley also suggested the city providing an area with dumpsters where people can dump for free.
John Warren wondered if city employees could spot eyesores and deal with them as they drive around or schedule regular pick-ups. He cited a pile of old stumps which were likely dumped by a neighbor and left for eight weeks “and the claw has driven right past them.”
Wells said some wood left in the street is too large and must be cut up to fit in the equipment. Branches, trunks and other wood must be less than two feet in diameter and less than four feet long to be picked up. The city will typically tell the people to cut up the wood further for pick up.
Wells said the delay in cleaning up dumps is partly due to the city trying to coincide clean-ups with scheduled bulky item pickup dates to be as “efficient as possible.”
“We could send a crew of streets workers around the city pretty much 40 hours a week picking up this stuff and that’s just not a very efficient use of streets workers which are primarily paid with gas tax which are supposed to be working on streets and roads,” said Wells.
Sometimes the piles are not dealt with immediately, Wells stated, because code enforcement officers need to investigate for evidence left to trace the violator.
“The other part of that challenge is the sooner we pick it up, the sooner we’re training people for that bad behavior. When they say an illegal dump picked up the next day then they recognize, ah, that’s a good spot to dump; it gets picked up the next day. So we want to be sure to investigate those dumps to verify there’s anything we can do to see where it’s coming from.”
Mayor Vierra agreed, saying “if we keep pandering to these people and picking up after them, it’s just like the children who don’t have to clean up their room.”
“This has been going on a couple of years, more so now,” said Marlin Sena, who lives in The Parks gated community. “We have 94 units in that complex; about 80 percent of the homeowners have complained to me of what can the city do about the trash.”
Mayor Chris Vierra said the problem of dumping is a costly one for taxpayers. He cited the annual clean-up of Smyrna Park alone at more than $300,000.
Councilman Mike Kline said he reports trash piles to the city manager. He said dumping has been a problem in specific areas, such as near Walter White School and Central Valley High School.
“We are aware of it and some of us are actively trying to take care of that situation,” said Kline. “We try to do what we can. But on the other hand when the leaves fall, how many people go around and dump all their leaves and limbs around Smyrna Park instead of leave them in their front yard and … Bertolloti spends I don’t know how many hours just trying to clean it up.”