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TAKE IN THE TRASH: Tribune nabs 4 of 5 elected SLO officials storing their bins illegally

Jan Marx, Albert Drive See photos of the other council members' houses>>
Jan Marx, Albert Drive See photos of the other council members' houses>>

Partially shoved behind a bush. Hidden behind a parked car. Tucked under a deck. Sitting on a cement slab. Everywhere but where they were supposed to be.

San Luis Obispo City Council members are having a difficult time following the law that they created banning trash cans from being visible in people’s front yards.

Only one of five council members — Dan Carpenter — was adhering to the law last weekend when a Tribune photographer checked to see if the cans were visible.

The rest were blatantly disregarding the law.

Were they apologetic for violating it? Not really. Did they admit their wrongdoing? Eventually. Did they intend to move their trash cans? Possibly.

The city law is controversial, irking many longtime residents, starting feuds among neighbors and empowering others to tattle away to city officials.

The law states that all trash, green waste and recycling receptacles must be completely screened from public view by landscaping, a wall or a fence. The law will soon be amended to clarify that it only applies to the front yard.

Under the ordinance, residents can put their waste containers on the curb within 24 hours of scheduled pickup and must put them away no more than 12 hours after pickup.

Council member Andrew Carter, who made the motion last October to approve the law, keeps his trash can wedged behind a bush.

When asked about his cans, Carter momentarily maintained that someone standing directly in front of his house can’t see his, but then admitted that the trash can is in clear view of anyone traveling down his street.“A person could certainly say that I am violating the ordinance,” Carter said.

He has kept his trash can there for years and doesn’t plan on moving it — unless he has to.

“If someone reported me, then I would have to move it,” said Carter, adding that the law could use some tweaking. “I don’t think that a reasonable person would say where I keep my trash can is a problem, but a literal interpretation of the law says it is.”

Councilman John Ashbaugh keeps only one can visible — his green waste bin — which sits in plain view at the end of the driveway leading up to his house.

“It’s not possible to say that my particular flaunting of that green bin is consistent with the ordinance,” said Ashbaugh. “Yes, it is a violation. I’m working on a solution.”

He keeps the other cans tucked away out of sight behind the garage. He said he might consider putting the green bin there, too, but what he really wants is to persuade his wife to build the storage shed he’s always wanted.

“I wouldn’t attempt to conceal that I’m breaking the law,” Ashbaugh said. “What I should do is conceal my trash can.”

Mayor Jan Marx said she thought she might have been breaking the law by keeping her bins under the deck, but she wasn’t sure.

“My understanding was that trash cans couldn’t be between the house and the street, and I considered the deck to be the end of my house,” Marx said. “I hadn’t thought of what it looks like from the street.”

Once informed that she was breaking the law, Marx moved the cans into the garage and said she planned to keep them there.

Councilwoman Kathy Smith stores her cans under the carport in front of her car — which largely shields them from view when it is parked there. When the car is gone, the cans can be seen in full view by anyone passing by.

Smith, who was not on the council when the law was enacted a year ago, argued that technically she is not breaking the law because she lives in a mobile- home park where the streets are not public but are maintained by a private development.

“Quite frankly, I do have the capability of moving them back further out of public view,” Smith said. “Because it isn’t required in our development and other people pretty much do the same thing as I do, I don’t think about it, to be honest.”

City officials could not provide an exact number of how many complaints have been received since the law was enacted, but they did note that at least five or six grievances about trash cans are called in weekly. Only a handful of offenders have received the $100 citation given to repeat violators.

So far, no one has complained about the City Council members breaking the law.

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