People who dump old furniture, appliances and other trash on city streets, alleys and other places will soon face much tougher penalties: higher fines and, perhaps, getting their vehicle impounded.
The Fresno City Council unanimously voted to approve the beefed-up enforcement measures – and signaled its willingness to do much more. The 7-0 vote, which needs to be confirmed by a second final vote next week, increases the fines for a first citation for illegal dumping from $500 to $1,000, plus cleanup costs if the city has to clear out the trash; for a second offense, the fine doubles from $750 to $1,500, plus twice the cleanup costs. The fine for a third offense and subsequent citations by the same offender is $3,000, plus three times the city’s cost for cleanup.
Jerry Schuber, manager of the city’s Solid Waste Management Division, told council members that a significant increase in dumping over the past three years “made it apparent that fines and penalties … were in need of an increase.”
The tougher rules will likely take effect in mid-January, 30 days after final adoption.
In addition, the changes to the city’s illegal-dumping ordinance include authorizing the City Attorney’s Office to pursue civil lawsuits or seek criminal misdemeanor charges against offenders.
It also spells out that an offender’s car or truck used for illegal dumping could be impounded by the city – but some questions cropped up about whether police or code-enforcement officers could order a vehicle towed at the scene if they catch someone in the act of throwing stuff out on a roadside.
“Cars can be impounded if they’re used in commission of a criminal act,” Schuber told the council. “That piece is existing in the law; we’re reiterating that … Now we can tow a vehicle, and we’re telling people, ‘We can tow your vehicle.’ ”
City Attorney Douglas Sloan, however, sought to temper the council’s expectations over how vehicle impounds would work. The law provides that vehicles can be impounded only for criminal behavior, not civil violations such as citations. “It has to be a serious violation … of state law,” Sloan told the council. Even then, he added, impounding a vehicle would require approval by a judge in a criminal case. “A police officer does not have the authority to on-the-spot impound a vehicle,” Sloan said.
The impound provisions of the new law were approved by the council, but members decided to gather more information from the Fresno Police Department and Code Enforcement about the prospect of impounding vehicles before setting a formal policy calling for an impound after a second offense, as suggested by Councilman Garry Bredefeld.
Interim Assistant City Manager Bruce Rudd told the council that in his conversations with police, “their frustration is that they’re citing the same people over and over and over again” for illegal dumping.
Schuber noted that the city has increased the number of surveillance cameras used by code enforcement to capture video of illegal dumping and identify vehicles and offenders. Schuber and Kelli Furtado, assistant director of the city’s Public Utilities Department, added that video cameras in some instances will capture the same person coming back two or three times to dump stuff in one location on the same day – each time racking up a separate citation to be delivered to their door. “That happens more often than you might realize,” Furtado told the council.
Furtado said that under the existing law, the city has issued 188 citations with fines amounting to about $100,000. As of Nov. 30, however, only about 33 percent of those fines have been collected, Furtado said. Fresno expects to collect another $47,000 in fines over the next few months from working with the state to attach offenders’ tax refunds.