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Worker in orange vest looks over a mound of illegally dumped trash

Richmond installing cameras to crack down on illegal dumping

on September 21, 2023

A dirty red couch. An old pink baby stroller. Broken appliances. Rusted car parts. These are just some of the biggest pieces of illegally dumped trash spotted this month in a Richmond neighborhood. 

City crews can’t keep up with the work.

“We go to a street and pick up garbage,” said Victor Mejia, a Richmond Public Works Department cleanup worker. “Then after 20 minutes, we go back to the same spot and they dumped it again.”

To fight the problem, the department plans to install cameras at some of the biggest problem areas as a pilot this year, but no specific date has been set, said Daniel Chavarria, Richmond Public Works director. 

Two workers in orange vests load maroon couch cushions into a truck.
Richmond Public Works cleanup workers Alfredo Razo and Victor Mejia pile illegally dumped couches into a truck. (Edison Wu)

The goal is to catch the illegal dumpers in the act and then work with police and others to cite or fine those who break the law, Chavarria said. The law states that anyone caught illegally dumping can face up to $1,000 in fines.

“If you don’t touch their wallet, they aren’t going to care,” he said. “It is a message: ‘Don’t come to Richmond to mess here. Take care of Richmond.’”

However, some residents worry that the surveillance cameras are a form of Big Brother. 

“It’s kind of like an invasion of privacy,” said Arquimides Sanchez, a carpenter who has lived in Richmond for four years.

A big pile of bulky trash including a pink chair, a white chair, tables and lots of bags and cardboard.
A pile of trash at the West Contra Costa Sanitary Landfill (Edison Wu)

As of August, Mejia and the rest of the clean-up crew have collected nearly 4 million pounds of illegally dumped waste from more than 1,000 locations throughout the city, according to an analysis of abatement update presentations.

As a result, the Public Works Department has doubled the number of cleanup workers to 17, according to Deputy Director Tawfic Halaby. Even so, the workload remains severe. 

“What are you doing at 7 o’clock in the morning on Monday? These guys are out working,” Halaby said.

Chavarria said the problem remains severe because unscrupulous junk removal companies are offloading their trash on city streets to save money, instead of taking it to the dump. 

West Contra Costa Sanitary Landfill, Richmond’s main dump, charges $42 or mattress disposal and $137 for a TV or computer monitor.

Mejia believes that residents also are dumping trash on the street. “They can’t afford the dump,” Mejia said. “For someone that does not have that much money, it’s going to be easier for them just to dump it outside.”

Two long price lists at the West Contra Costa Sanitary Landfill, atop one is a yellow sign that says Cash and Credit Cards; atop the other is a yellow sign saying Accounts.
Price list at the West Contra Costa Sanitary Landfill (Edison Wu)

Public Works holds neighborhood dumpster dropoffs for residents to dispose of bulky items for free, and it provides curbside collection for seniors and disabled residents. The dropoffs are on Saturdays in spring, summer and fall. Residents should contact their neighborhood councils to find out when a dropoff will occur in their area.

Additionally, residents in Richmond, El Cerrito, Hercules, Pinole, San Pablo and the surrounding unincorporated communities may bring three mattresses per month at no cost to the West Contra Costa County Household Hazardous Waste Collection Facility, 101 Pittsburg Ave. in Richmond.

Residents can help curb illegal dumping by reporting it to the illegal dumping hotline, 510-965-4905.

Alicia Chiang contributed to this story.

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