Claudia Hartman quietly watched with arms crossed against the morning chill as a handful of men tossed strollers, ragged stuffed bears and a dingy plastic castle dollhouse into the back of a garbage truck in front of her Oceano home. Meanwhile, sheriff’s deputies dug through boxes and laundry baskets on a fold-up table, pulling out children’s clothing, holiday decorations and even baseball trophies.
The items strewn across the lawn weren’t hers, but when Hartman discovered the pile of refuse Sunday morning, she knew it would be her responsibility to clean it up.
“My heart sank,” she said Tuesday. “You walk out of your house and see all this junk, and then you are thinking, ‘Are they going to come by for pickup, or am I going to have to pay for all this?’ Then it’s thinking, ‘Where am I going to get $100 to pay for it?’ We were just frustrated and upset.”
Illegal trash dumping is a common problem in Oceano, where rural roads and alleys give would-be litterers plenty of places to abandon garbage without getting caught. Add to that the constant flux of tourists and homeless individuals throughout town and you’ve got the makings of a sizable trash problem.
Other communities, people wouldn’t think about just coming by and dumping their trash, but in Oceano they seem to think we are fair game.
Karen White, Oceano Community Services District board president
The Oceano Community Services District is looking to change that with several new initiatives aimed at cleaning up the town.
“Other communities, people wouldn’t think about just coming by and dumping their trash, but in Oceano they seem to think we are fair game,” said Karen White, the district’s board president. “We’ve worked very, very, very hard on cleanup of this community.”
The district’s new initiative includes a new smartphone app — “Ready311” — that lets people report where illegal dumping is taking place, twice yearly “cleanup weeks” where trash pickup fees are waived, adopt-a-can and adopt-an-alley programs and special neighborhood events focused on trash pickup.
This is in addition to trash pickup services the district and South County Sanitary Services already offer in the area, such as free oil pickup, household hazardous waste disposal and extra recycling pickup once a month.
“The community is really supportive, but then people come driving through and consider any old alley a place to dump stuff,” White said. “It doesn’t make me angry, it makes me disappointed, because we work so hard, the community works so hard, to keep ourselves clean and then people do this.”
The county Sheriff’s Office is also getting in on the action: In addition to working with the district to post signs where dumping usually happens, deputies also examine the garbage left behind to find evidence of who may have left it, and issue fines to the offending parties.
“Trash dumping is not a victimless crime because it tends to lower the quality of life for those living in the area, and the people who own the property where the trash is dumped become liable for the cost to remove the trash to a proper disposal site,” Cmdr. Stuart MacDonald said Tuesday.
The fine for a first violation is up to $1,000, though repeated violations can mean even higher fines, MacDonald said.
Such a fine could soon be on the way for whoever left the pile of trash in front of Hartman’s home — several of the trophies the sheriff’s deputies unearthed were engraved with the same name, possibly a clue as to the source of the dump or, at the very least, someone with information on who did it.
In the future, Hartman said she and her family will install security cameras to dissuade people from using the lawn as a dump site again.
“I want people to know we are fighting back,” she said while the last of the abandoned items were loaded into the garbage truck. “I don’t want this to happen again.”