Public discussion over Atascadero’s proposed ban on digging through other people’s trash is heating up as the City Council prepares to make a final decision Tuesday after tentatively approving the new law last month.
At its Dec. 9 meeting, the council unanimously approved a draft of an "Anti-Scavenging Ordinance" prohibiting foraging through waste containers and taking items.
The proposed law arose after the city’s police department said it received complaints about nonresidents causing early-morning disruptions and scattering trash as they rummaged through bins looking for food and recyclables in local neighborhoods.
Atascadero Police Chief Jerel Haley told the City Council Dec. 9 that the department did not have the exact number of complaints it received last year or whether complaints have increased since the previous year.
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While current state law makes recyclables the property of authorized waste collectors once inside a bin for pickup, police have depended on local garbage companies to report offenses.
Atascadero resident Lee Perkins, a regular speaker at council meetings, told The Tribune that she’s “outraged” by the proposed ban. She’s spoken to several people who support rummaging, she said, and they plan to speak against its approval at Tuesday’s meeting.
The topic created some debate on social media last week when The Tribune posted a Facebook thread asking what the public thought of the proposed ban; it attracted nearly 40 comments by Friday afternoon.
Those who commented seemed mostly mixed on the issue, with the conversation centering on whether the law is fair to the poor versus the nuisance that rummaging creates for others.
“If someone wants to make money off of my lack of care for the earth, that is completely OK with me,” commenter Randy Carminati said.
But commenter Jason Neighbors, whose profile says he lives in Atascadero, wrote: “I have (people) waking me up at 3 and 4 in the morning every week going through my cans and the (neighbors’). They drop and break bottles so we have broken glass on the sidewalk and street. They never worry about picking up any of the garbage that falls out onto the ground. I think it should be illegal and you should be fined.”
The discussions laid out on social media also branched off into topics such as government passing too many laws to the risk of identity theft from personal information retrieved from the trash.
Atascadero resident Rick Evans said online that he’s one of the people who called the police to complain about scavenging.
“I wasn't bothered by folks looking through my recycle can.... but when they started coming on to my property, and my neighbor's property, to steal my cans/plastic.... that's when I called the APD and complained.”
He said the practice of digging through people’s personal trash cans is different than “dumpster-diving,” which typically involves pulling things such as discarded furniture from larger trash bins.
If approved Tuesday, the law would take effect Feb. 12 and make Atascadero the only city in San Luis Obispo County with such an ordinance. Breaking the new rules would be punishable by a fine of no more than $250 per offense.
Staff writer Matt Fountain contributed to this article.