The Atascadero City Council turned down a proposal last week that would have banned people from rummaging through trash cans to collect recyclables from neighborhoods, parks and shopping centers.
Atascadero police Chief Jerel Haley proposed the new ordinance, which he says was prompted by public complaints. Although complaints were present before Haley was hired in November 2011, the Police Department’s research showed about 73 related calls to police in the past year and half, he said.
The issue may bother more people who are not calling police about it, he noted.
Haley said callers have three main concerns about rummaging: It attracts people to loiter nearby or on private property; it brings the potential for identity theft; and it increases the amounts of trash left behind in local parks and city streets.
It would also would have been up to the police whether to enforce the law, such as giving warnings for first-time violators and citing only repeat offenders.
The council voted 3-2 to reject the proposal, with Mayor Bob Kelley and Councilman Brian Sturtevant pushing to approve it. Kelley said that incidents of trash rummaging around Atascadero Lake Park and Sunken Gardens resulted in clutter being left behind.
“I think this is going to be a tool that our Police Department could hopefully (use to) control that,” Kelley said.
Sturtevant said he was uncomfortable having strangers on private property.
“I think about my grandmother, I think about my mother. And they’re fearful. They don’t want to call. They don’t want to get involved. They don’t know what to do. There’s a sense of helplessness. So that’s the part that bothers me,” he said.
But Councilwoman Roberta Fonzi said that she thought scavenging wasn’t enough of an issue to place more regulations on the public.
“It’s better that they’re working by looking for recyclables than begging on the corner,” Fonzi said of those who typically rummage through trash.
A Vietnam veteran occasionally picks out recyclables in her neighborhood, she added.
“I think with this economy as it is, a little compassion is needed,” Fonzi said.