What a Waste 

Oakland has launched a crackdown on illegal dumping, but the effort doesn't address the needs of many city residents, and it's not sustainable.

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Consequently, some people dump — or turn to illegal haulers. Rebecca Parnes, recycling program coordinator with Waste Management, explained that no individual or business in Oakland is legally allowed to be paid to haul unwanted items to the dump other than Waste Management. (The only exceptions are contractors doing a job on a home hauling incidental amounts of construction debris and tree trimmers hauling away plant refuse.) In practice, however, there are many illegal haulers who will get rid of junk for a fee, Waste Management and city officials agreed. This problem likely contributes to illegal dumping in a big way. Illegal haulers are not held accountable and have economic incentives to dump stuff at the most convenient location or in hot spots in West and East Oakland.

Illegal hauling, in fact, is something of an unregulated, underground industry in the East Bay. Search for "haulers" on Craigslist and you'll find dozens of individuals on any given day offering their services for an affordable price. However, haulers offering very cheap rates probably have no intention of bringing the trash to the dump, explained one Craigslist hauler, who wished to remain anonymous, given that his entire operation is illegal. The man, who lives in the East Bay and is semi-retired, has been hauling for about six years on a part-time basis.

He charges $35 per hour for standard pickups — moving a couch from one location to another, for example — and offers an $80 flat rate for a so-called "dump run," in which he'll load up to about four hundred pounds or one-and-a-half cubic yards of items in his pickup truck to be properly disposed at a local transfer station. Part of that fee will go toward the cost of dumping, with the Berkeley Transfer Station, for example, charging him a minimum of $29.

"We're obviously fulfilling a niche," said the hauler, who argued that Alameda County should license haulers in order to weed out the illegitimate ones who are polluting the streets — and to give customers confidence that their trash will actually end up in the dump. "We provide a micro-service." He does five to six jobs on average on Saturdays and Sundays, often getting paid by residents who are moving out immediately and have no other options.

The once-a-year bulky pickup option is "really to discourage illegal haulers ... and to encourage folks to get materials out of their home and provide them a legal way and a convenient way of doing that," said Rebecca Jewell, recycling program manager with Waste Management. But Parnes acknowledged that this program is not available to many Oakland residents and that it's challenging to find an alternative option. "You have to have the initiative to actually do it. You have to have the capability to do it, and I think that capability is the biggest barrier, because the average person can't load all that stuff up and take it somewhere." She said that many people are more likely to put their furniture on the sidewalk with a "free" sign, which, even if the furniture is in good condition, is still illegal.

Councilman Gallo, in the anti-dumping recommendations he crafted separate from the ordinance, said Waste Management should increase its number of bulky pickups to once a month and reduce fees at the dump. And when asked about expanding these options, city council, public works, and the City Attorney's Office staffers all said that they would be supportive. "We as a community need to have as many options as possible," said Parker, the city attorney, "so that we can reduce the incidents of people dumping."

"We've got to make it easier," added Farmer, McElhaney's policy analyst. Residents in apartment buildings "are really in a quandary," she admitted. "It's very challenging. I can see where alternative methods of dumping or paying illegal haulers is really enticing."

However, providing more options for apartment-dwellers is not part of the city's new anti-dumping law.

"They are stuck between a rock and a hard place," said the anonymous Craigslist hauler, who added that many residents who hire him want to do the right thing and ask if he actually plans to go to the dump. County waste officials have considered some sort of hauler registration system that would allow for fines, but no proposals are in the works for that either.

Oakland does have an opportunity to address the problems that renters face right now, however. Oakland's waste contract ­­— known as a "franchise agreement" because Waste Management is the exclusive company handling the city's trash — is up for renegotiation. Farmer said McElhaney plans to push for additional options for apartment-dwellers in the negotiation process. Jason Overman, spokesman for Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan, said of the dearth of options, "This is an ongoing challenge that we are committed to addressing."

But it's unclear whether providing bulky pickup options for apartment-dwellers will actually be a top priority in the negotiations. In its request for bids last year, the city asked for one small pickup each year for occupants of buildings with five or more units. According to the census, 33 percent of housing units in Oakland are in structures with five or more dwellings. That works out to about 57,000 units. However, there is no guarantee that Waste Management will agree to provide bulky pickups to renters of these dwellings.

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