Modesto police overstate cities banning trash diving

A Modesto Police Department report written to advance a proposed Dumpster diving ordinance unintentionally but incorrectly said that four Central Valley cities prohibit people from digging through waste containers.

Officials from Ceres, Clovis, Oakdale and Tracy said they do not have bans against Dumpster diving. Ceres, Clovis and Tracy bar people from taking recyclables left for street pickups.

They were among seven cities the Modesto Police Department on Tuesday told council members restrict people from foraging in garbage bins.

Of the seven communities, only Stockton and Turlock have ordinances as expansive as the one the Modesto council passed by a 5-2 vote after the Police Department's presentation.

"We were somewhat shocked to find out we already had it," Ceres City Attorney Michael Lyions said jokingly. He said he and the Ceres Police Department have begun researching whether Ceres should adopt a Dumpster diving ordinance similar to the one the Modesto council approved.

Modesto Police Chief Roy Wasden said his department is looking into the report and would set the record straight.

The purpose of the research "was to find out if any codes have things on the books to address those issues, and some cities do," Sgt. Craig Gund- lach said. "The outcome is still the same. We feel the community needs an ordinance to specifically address people going through garbage, and it is going to be a very important tool."

The Police Department also had a hand in bringing representatives from Neighborhood Watch groups to the council meeting, where they spoke in favor of the ordinance.

Councilman Will O'Bryant, who voted against the proposal, said officers should not have called on the residents.

"Each thing brought to the council should stand on its face and let the council determine the value," O'Bryant said. "I welcome people to come, but it's not the city's responsibility to recruit people."

Councilwoman Janice Keating, who voted with O'Bryant, agreed.

"It makes me feel a little bit at a disadvantage that people who weren't calling for this specific problem were being asked to come down and lobby us for a decision that the Police Department wanted," she said.

Wasden says he often invites people to meetings

Wasden said he often advises people to attend council meetings.

"I routinely invite people to come to the City Council, both who would support a view I had and who would oppose a view I had. I think that's why we have public meetings," he said.

Councilwoman Kristin Olsen said the department was right to call the community groups because their complaints about Dumpster diving contributed to the push to write the ordinance.

"The Police Department actually had a responsibility to let these private groups know that they are doing what they can to address the problem and bring it to the council's attention, and if (the groups) want to weigh in on it, they should come to the council meeting," Olsen said.

Councilmen Brad Hawn and Dave Lopez also said it was appropriate for the department to call neighborhood groups, as long as officers didn't tell them what to say.

About a dozen people spoke in favor of the measure at the meeting. Two who identified themselves as representatives of Neighborhood Watch groups told The Bee they received phone calls about the meeting from a police officer who coordinates community outreach efforts.

They said they were glad to speak up for the ordinance.

"If they (the homeless) can't just freely do this stuff, maybe they'll move on," said Victoria Culbertson, 54, a member of the Northgate Drive Neighborhood Watch who attended the meeting after getting a phone call from the Police Department.

Police: Ordinance helps in fighting blight

Several speakers came from the La Loma Neighborhood Association. The group's president, Mike Moradian, has advocated for a Dumpster diving ordinance for more than a month. He stayed in contact with Wasden about the measure's progress, he said.

"It's really important to our neighborhood," said Andrew Fiskum, 42, a member of the La Loma group who learned about the meeting from Moradian. "We do alley cleanups and park cleanups and try to keep the neighborhood we live in in a condition that is acceptable to everyone."

The Dumpster diving ordinance was one of eight proposals the Police Department presented to the council's Safety and Communities Committee in December.

The Police Department has called the proposal a tool in curbing identity theft and blight.

It's tougher than a current city code that bars people from taking "salvageable" waste, which is an infraction punishable by a $100 fine. The new ordinance declares Dumpster diving a misdemeanor, which enables officers to search and arrest people who rummage through garbage cans.

Central Valley cities take several approaches with ordinances against stealing recyclables.

Some designate taking separated recyclables a misdemeanor, such as Clovis. A Clovis code enforcement officer advises Dumpster divers that they are opening themselves up to charges of petty theft under state law when he asks them to move away from waste containers, he said.

Councilman Garrad Marsh said the Police Department's report on other cities did not sway his vote for the proposal.

"I don't base my votes on what other cities do, just whether it makes sense for out city," he said.

Bee staff writer Adam Ashton can be reached at aashton@modbee.com or 578-2366.

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