If you dump trash illegally in Fresno, be warned: the city could come after your wheels.
The Fresno City Council this week approved a resolution to impound vehicles that are used by people who are repeat garbage-dumping offenders. Rather than an on-the-spot seizure of a vehicle when the registered owner is caught red-handed unloading trash in an alley, curbside or vacant lot, however, whether or not to impound will be decided by a judge when the offender is taken to court to face criminal charges.
The measure introduced by Councilman Garry Bredefeld and approved Thursday by the council on a 6-0 vote is largely symbolic, as state law already allows for vehicle impounds for illegal dumping. “This just formalizes what the city attorney is already doing,” Bredefeld said. “The council did increase the fines (last year). … This is just another tool, and obviously an effective tool.”
I do not anticipate very many, if any, impounds occurring unless citizen reporting increases and violators repeat their offenses.
Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer
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Two lawyers with the Fresno City Attorney’s Office have been deputized by Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp to prosecute accused dumpers in court – a necessary step because the city has no authority to prosecute under a state law, City Attorney Douglas Sloan said. When they choose to seek misdemeanor charges against a dumper who already has a prior conviction, they can petition the court to impound the vehicle for up to six months.
It’s the latest of several steps the city is taking to clamp down on the volume of trash that gets dumped illegally in Fresno – more than 1,348 tons that city crews had to clean up over the past two years. The city’s solid waste division is increasing the number of surveillance cameras it has in place at trash-dumping hot spots in hopes of collecting video evidence to use to cite or prosecute dumpers. And in December, the council approved significant increases to the fines assessed for infractions of the city’s municipal code for illegal dumping. Under those changes, which take effect this month, the $500 fine for a first citation will increase to $1,000, plus the city’s costs to clean up the mess. For a second citation, the current $1,000 fine will rise to $1,500 plus twice the city’s cleanup costs. For a third and subsequent citations, the fine will remain at $3,000 and three times the cleanup cost.
When the dumping gets more serious is when the offense elevates from a citation under the city codes to criminal prosecution under state law and brings the potential for vehicle impounds into play.
Just how many vehicles could be seized? That’s not exactly clear. Neither Bredefeld nor Sloan could offer a prediction. On Friday, Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said he expects “few, if any, impounds” under misdemeanor charges.
The police department received reports of five incidents of illegal dumping last year and issued six citations, Dyer said. “We rely on the public to notify us of illegal dumping and respond accordingly,” he said. “As with most crimes, license plates and video evidence can assist us with follow-up investigation.”
“I do not anticipate very many, if any, impounds occurring unless citizen reporting increases and violators repeat their offenses,” he added.
But if they do happen, it’s going to be expensive: “A six-month impound for illegal dumping would cost the violator over $4,000 in administrative and storage fees,” Dyer said. “The ordinance is a big deterrent for anyone who is a repeat offender.”
The city’s solid waste and code enforcement divisions, on the other hand, receive many more reports of illegal dumping, including through the city’s FresGO smartphone app. More than 3,400 calls for service were received in 2016-17, and solid-waste chief Jerry Schuber said in December that reports are on pace to exceed 5,000 from July 1 through June 30.
Those reports resulted in about 188 citations by December, with fines adding up to about $100,000.