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Trash contributes to blight, crime
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There are still many places throughout this county, Ceres included, that suffer from litter and other unsightly refuse that has been intentionally dumped, accidentally spilled or blown about by the wind. The most commonly affected places are vacant lots, business parking lots and roadside areas. The major causes of litter are cigarette butts and packaging, plastics, used tires, abandoned cars, metals, dead animals, paper, furniture, boxes, appliances and carpets. Fast food wrappers and cups, of course, play a major role in ruining the appearance and image of any community.

Much progress has been made these past years in Ceres and the other communities as well, but there are only two personnel (in Ceres) available to address the blight problems that exist. Many places that have been unsightly messes over the years are now being kept neat and orderly, but for the City crews, it is a continuous and uphill battle. I read in one study that the state of California alone spends $28 million each year cleaning up areas that state government has responsibility for. When city, county and federal jurisdictions in this state are included, the total clean-up costs must be in the hundreds of millions.

The appearance of any community is not only about aesthetics. A place that has garbage, litter, old couches and appliances littering it makes the statement to all that its people do not care. To the criminals, a disorderly neighborhood sends many unwanted messages. It gives criminals the impression that no one cares enough to report suspicious or criminal activities. These are places that attract criminals like magnets, because they know that if people do not care enough to keep their communities clean, they are also less likely to report criminal activity and to do other things to ensure safety and the quality of life where they live. And at the risk of implicating our local governments, blighted areas may also be interpreted by the criminals as "sanctuary sites" where the police will not bother them.

Much is said about the impact that litter and blight has on a community, but the solutions seem few. To get a better understanding of the problem, I researched the issue and found a study by the group "Keep America Beautiful." The study asserts a strong correlation between littering and a "lack of ownership and/or pride in the community." The study also stated that "...littering behavior is nearly evenly distributed among all demographic groups..." The study also indicated that males are more than twice as likely to litter as females. Also, "...young people, under the age of 35, are twice as likely to litter as people between the ages of 35-49, and three times as likely to litter as people over 50." The purpose in knowing such statistics is to help know which groups to target for education on the problem.

One dynamic we city staff have seen repeated continuously is that, where there is a bit of litter, more is surely to follow, along with crime and other forms of anti-social behavior. I have to wonder if not for the fact that much litter actually has value, plastic bottles for example, how messed up our communities would really be. The urban outdoorsmen and others engaged in recyclables collecting are actually doing the rest of us a favor as they collect bottles and cans, filling large bags and disposing of them daily.

In addition to setting the stage for community deterioration and crime, litter and blight also leads to lower home valuations, graffiti, reduced business interest and the establishment of adverse-impact businesses that cater to society's prurient interests and addiction problems.

The solutions to litter and blight are, indeed few. But there are actions to be taken. It starts with neighborhood pride and attention to the cleanliness of people's property. Businesses must stay on top of the litter problem, taking active steps to clean up litter and graffiti without delay, posting no-littering signs and placing garbage cans in strategic places. Motorists, pick-up truck drivers in particular, must ensure that litter does not blow out of their vehicles. Garbage trucks and other vehicles transporting refuse to the dump must have loads properly covered, and people who have throw-away items must no longer discard them in empty lots or along our roadways. Perhaps a public education campaign, using radio station public service announcements, is once again in order.

I have seen many communities that, regardless of economic status, reflect true community pride and are litter free. It has entirely everything to do with public attitude and a sense of community commitment. Indeed, our communities look better than they have some years ago, but the battle against litter and blight has a long way to go. I hope we can do what is necessary to clean things up. Starting immediately, if everyone walking by a piece of litter simply picked it up and placed it in a garbage can, the problem could be wiped out rather quickly, because the clean-up effort itself is a signal to all that littering is unacceptable. Imagine if thousands of people, in Ceres, for example, started picking up a few pieces of litter everyday. Our city would become bright and clean very quickly, attitudes would change, fewer people would litter and the people of our community would enjoy greater safety and improved aesthetics.