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Richmond uses surveillance cameras to tackle illegal dumping

on September 24, 2013

Jackie Thompson opened her door last month and discovered that someone had decided to turn her block into a landfill. Old television sets, paint cans, stained mattresses and moldy furniture littered the street.

It happens all the time near Thompson’s house in the Cortez-Stege neighborhood, she said, and she’s angry. She’s even more irritated when she drives through other neighborhoods like the Iron Triangle and Santa Fe, where people sometimes dump trash three times a day, she said.

“The illegal dumping has plagued Richmond horribly,” she said. “People will just dump things on the sidewalk and in the middle of the street.”

She’s concerned about possible health hazards and worries the vacant lots littered with debris will double as breeding ground for rats.

“One of the problems we have is a lot of people travel through Richmond to get to the landfill and instead they just dump the items on our streets. When we are able to catch someone, we will prosecute,” said Tim Higares, Richmond’s code enforcement unit manager.

Now, Richmond may have found an answer. Three months ago, the city installed two state-of-the-art cameras at known littering hot spots, and they are working. Illegal dumping ceased at those locations. Officials want to add more cameras in hopes of catching illegal dumpers in the act or discouraging them all together.

So far, the cameras have worked so well in keeping dumpers away that officials have not had the chance to catch anyone.

“We have been more successful using them as a deterrent,” Higares said.

The motion-detector flash cams perch on poles and take photos when someone comes to dump garbage. The cameras then automatically send photos to abatement supervisors who can catch offenders in the act, or obtain a license plate number to later prosecute them.

As Richmond officials combat illegal dumping, state lawmakers are working to keep people from junking used mattress from alleyways and on vacant lots. The Used Mattress Recovery and Recycling Act, which now awaits Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature, would require mattress retailers to pick up used beds when delivering a new one. The law would also allow people to drop off an old mattress at a recycling or solid waste facility for free. The act also forces mattress manufacturers to start recycling used mattresses.

“The costs of illegally dumped mattresses and the growing magnitude of the problem require action by the legislature,” Sen. Lori Hancock, D-Berkeley, who co-authored the bill, wrote in a news release.

Richmond officials encourage anyone who finds an illegal dump to report it to the Richmond Public Works Department at 510-231-3043. Call the Police Department at 9-1-1 to report active dumping.

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