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Numbers of yard sales proliferate in bad economy
If it seems like there's been more yard sales in the last year than you're used to seeing, the economy could be the explanation. With an unemployment rate of 18 percent, and dollars being scarce, many more people in Ceres are holding garage or yard sales to raise extra dollars.

Residents like Celesta, who had a variety of household goods on Caswell Avenue on Friday, find yard sales are a way to get rid of unwanted items and raise a little spending cash.

"If you get a steady flow of customers it can be fun," she said. "They are kind of a pain if you don't have much business and have to haul it back in if you don't sell it."

The sale caught the eye of Ceres resident Paul Jacobs who is always looking to see if he can find a bargain in power tools. He also likes to pick up clothing for the homeless people for which his church extend assistance.

"You know what they say, one's junk is another man's treasure," said Jacobs.

Yard sales have been part of the American fabric for decades but the downturn in the Valley economy has resulted in a swell in the number of sales. The city of Ceres reported receiving approximately 6,000 sale permits in 2010 alone.

Acting City Manager Art deWerk believes sales are up also because of the families selling items as they move from their foreclosed homes to move in with families or smaller apartments.

While yard sales can be a win-win for seller and buyer, the city does have laws regarding yard sales to keep residential neighborhoods from turning into flea market zones.

"It's really about preserving the quality of life of the neighborhood because it is disruptive," said deWerk. "It brings in pedestrian and vehicle traffic that isn't ordinarily there."

The Ceres Municipal Code requires all persons who are hosting a yard sale to obtain a permit from city hall. They cost $5 and are must be picked up at the city's Finance Department prior to the sale. No more than two sales per calendar year are allowed. Anyone without a permit risks having their sales shut down and/or receiving a $100 administrative fine.

Frank Alvarez, the city of Ceres' code enforcement officer, said he randomly will spend Fridays and Saturdays checking to see if residents have permits, which must be displayed at the sale itself. On one recent weekend this spring Alvarez shut down 10 to 12 sales. He will often tell the resident they cannot operate a sale without a permit and they have to close it down. He comes back in about a half hour to check on matters and if the sale continues has issued a $100 fine.

"Most people comply," said Alvarez, adding that he's been called a few choice words for enforcing the municipal code.

The city has a complaint driven enforcement system for those who skirt the law and try to operate businesses at their home.

"We get a lot of complaints when people start having them every Saturday and Sunday and they start blocking traffic," said Alvarez.

The city does not allow new items to be sold at sales and has shut down sales which appear to be an illicit resale operation. DeWerk said sales where someone is selling new products is unfair to existing merchants who pay a business license and pay sales taxes. He said the house-based operations are cheating the city out of sales tax dollars.

"We've seen where people will go to auctions, like up at Sacramento, to buy in bulk, like air compressors," said Alvarez. "It's not supposed to be used household items, just stuff you're getting rid of."

Some people also try adding food - like tamales - to their sales, which is also a forbidden. The presence of food sales or new products has resulted in a permit being revoked and a sale shut down.

"We've heard every excuse in the book," said Alvarez.

Signs are also a huge problem.

Ceres Senior Planner Tom Westbrook said it's illegal for persons to post garage or yard sale signs at any other location than where the sale is.

"The code says that you can have a sign at your house," said Westbrook. "It doesn't say you can have one at the street corner on a telephone pole."

DeWerk said many residents ignore the law and nail, tape screw cardboard and other signs to wooden power poles or steel road signs and that city time is spent removing them. In many instances, the wind blows them to the ground and they become part of the trashing of Ceres.

Alvarez said he has spent a whole day removing enough signs to fill four or five bags only to see more take their place within days or weeks.

Typically the presence of a sign is one way that the city find illegal sellers.

"I've followed the signs," said Ceres code enforcement officer Paula Redfern, "and generally the people don't have a yard sale permit and I issue them a citation and tell them they can be cited if they don't remove the signs as well."