Jeff Jardine

Talking trash too frequently a topic on city streets, county roads

Scenic Drive in Modesto, Calif. isn't so appealing when people dump a mattress and box spring on the sidewalk. It's a daily occurrence throughout the city and the county. Illegal dumping never lets up, waste managers say. Pictured Wednesday, June 29, 2016 just east of Sonoma Avenue.
Scenic Drive in Modesto, Calif. isn't so appealing when people dump a mattress and box spring on the sidewalk. It's a daily occurrence throughout the city and the county. Illegal dumping never lets up, waste managers say. Pictured Wednesday, June 29, 2016 just east of Sonoma Avenue. jjardine@modbee.com

Modesto probably should change the street name of Scenic Drive to something else.

Driving into work Wednesday morning, I noticed a mattress and box spring on the sidewalk along a high wall just west of Sonoma Avenue.

They weren’t left out in a driveway for a prearranged pickup. They were dumped.

Once or twice each week, the city’s lowest subspecies dump and run along Scenic – one of the main veins into the downtown area – and leave a disgusting scene. People continue to trash the city streets and county roads. They trash it figuratively as well as literally, and as fast as a city crew, volunteers or contract haulers can haul it off, someone will dump again nearby.

Sofas, mattresses, appliances. It’s not the first time I’ve written about this and probably won’t be the last. It’s a daily occurrence somewhere in the city. Or if you’re out for a drive through the farms and orchards, expect to come across enough old furniture and appliances that, if not junk, would fill a two-bedroom apartment.

It’s frustrating to people who care about their communities, appreciate the farmland and find it odious that people would have so little regard for the place they call home that they treat it like a landfill.

Exactly 100 percent of the problem is the people who dump illegally. But beyond being classless, part of the reason is the cost and dumping locations. Stanislaus County’s Fink Road landfill charges $10 to $15 per load, depending upon the type of vehicle or trailer. It also charges individually for tires (by size), appliances, mattresses (the Scenic dumper saved $20 for the box spring and mattress) and other larger items. And it is situated 23 miles west of Modesto near Crows Landing and west of Interstate 5. Bring a picnic lunch and make a day of it.

Or they can stay closer to home by taking it to the Gilton Resource Recovery transfer station on McClure Road, where its costs $30 per load to dump, plus $2 apiece for passenger car tires, $8 for pickup tires and other individual item costs. Bertolotti Disposal’s transfer station in south Modesto charges from a minimum of $15.80 (for up to 480 pounds) to $61 per ton, according to its online page.

By comparison, San Joaquin County has two publicly owned landfills and a county-owned transfer station near Manteca. They charge $11 per load, said Desi Reno, San Joaquin County’s integrated waste manager.

“We’ve kept it artificially low because it encourages people to use the facilities,” Reno said.

Consequently, he said, they don’t have as much illegal dumping in the rural areas. (Stockton is Stockton.) And Forward Inc. operates a privately owned landfill that is becoming a mountain east of Highway 99.

Stanislaus County spends more than $100,000 annually to clean up illegal dumping along county roads, and that doesn’t include the cost of inmate crews whenever they are assigned cleanup duties. The county doesn’t operate a transfer station on the eastern side, which explains why there is so much illegal dumping there.

As for the junk left on Modesto’s streets, the matter of who cleans it up – never the person who made the mess, of course – is complicated by something as simple as where the sidewalk ends and the private property begins.

Bert Lippert, Modesto’s building inspector program coordinator, said the contract with trash haulers, including Gilton, requires them to pick up illegally dumped items from the city streets and sidewalks. They do. But the haulers’ responsibility is only for junk left on public property. The city’s Neighborhood Preservation Unit deals with blight on private property.

“Someone will dump a sofa, and a transient will come along and drag it onto private property, which means the NPU gets involved,” he said. “Or a citizen will try to do the right thing by getting it off the street.”

That changes the game. Someone then would need to contact the city, which would retrieve the junk.

Lippert has overseen scores of blight cleanups, including one a few years back that generated 50 tons of illegal dumping costing taxpayers $2,500 in dump fees alone, not to mention staff time and equipment. Many of those cleanups were in alleyways.

But more and more dump-and-runs are happening on the roads and even city streets. Wednesday morning, a mattress and a box spring adorned one of Modesto’s main streets into downtown and represented just one little dot of blight.

Scenic Drive looked anything but scenic. Blight never does.

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