OAKLAND -- There's not much point in wishing Councilman Larry Reid a "Happy Friday."
That's the day he drives through his East Oakland district taking note of all the mattresses, tires, trash, abandoned vehicles and anything else that folks have dumped on city streets and sidewalks.
Last month at San Leandro and Stone streets outside a shuttered warehouse, Reid found Stone littered with two couches, seven tires and one dead Chihuahua wrapped in a plastic bag. Nearby a tidy yellow house on Pearmain Street were piles of carpet foam, a smashed computer, several uprooted marijuana plants and a sign that read "Garage Sale."
"I drive through here, and I get so depressed," Reid said. "It drives me crazy. This is what people have to come home to."
Illegal dumping has long been an expensive problem in Oakland and other East Bay cities with expansive industrial areas that attract people who don't want to pay landfill fees.
Oakland last year spent $3.2 million and used the equivalent of 29 full-time workers to clean up more than 1,600 tons of garbage dumped on city streets and sidewalks. Even more trash is dumped on property belonging to BART and the railroads. Richmond spent about $1.1 million on illegal dumping and Hayward spent $900,000, officials said. Statewide, illegal dumping costs taxpayers about $200 million per year, according to the California Integrated Waste Management Board.
Statistically speaking, Oakland is making strides in the battle against illegal dumping, which has nearly been cut in half over the past six years. But for those who live and work around the dumping grounds of East and West Oakland, the problem is as bad as ever and they want to see violators finally get punished.
"We need to take some of that $3.2 million and start busting some of these guys," said Michael Herling, who is chairman of the West Oakland Business Alert Committee. "Unless we come up with some more punitive measures, it's going to be Groundhog Day."
Oakland is good at speedily picking up illegally dumped items, but it has never succeeded at punishing the dumpers.
Last year, the city eliminated a failed Litter Enforcement Program that had begun 10 years earlier with eight employees working to build cases against illegal dumpers.
The workers sifted through trash looking for names and addresses, but prosecution rarely succeeded. Too often, the people identified in the rubbish piles were dead, had moved, or were able to convince a judge that they didn't actually dump the junk, according to a city report.
The city had used a grant to have police stake out hot spots, but no one was caught, the same report found.
Surveillance cameras also have failed as enforcement tools, because the cameras generally picked up only the license plates of trucks used for illegal dumping, which isn't enough evidence to prosecute.
Oakland, like Richmond and Hayward, is a haven for illegal dumpers because it has large expanses of industrial areas where home and construction waste can be discarded anonymously. The problem is especially acute in East and West Oakland because many homes are interspersed in the areas where most of the dumping occurs.
Many culprits are independent haulers, often just someone with a truck. They often post ads on Craigslist.org offering cheap rates and then maximize profits by emptying their loads on city streets.
At a proper disposal facility, such as Waste Management's transfer center in San Leandro, it costs $35 to dispose of an appliance, $21.70 per mattress and box spring, and $15 per car tire.
"It's just a hard time catching them," said Tim Higares, Richmond Code Enforcement Unit manager. "If we don't get at it, it becomes a dump site," he said.
"Three bags could become 20 bags the next morning."
Oakland is at a crossroads over illegal dumping. The city has disbanded its enforcement arm to deal with the problem, yet it faces calls for stepped up prosecution.
Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan said she's working with Alameda County's Stop Waste.Org on a program to license independent haulers.
Such a system, she said, would help customers know if the haulers are legitimate and make it easier to prosecute violators.
Kaplan also has proposed working with Waste Management to help stop illegal dumping by having its employees photograph people and trucks they see dumping illegally.
State Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, is working on a bill to cut down on the number of mattresses dumped illegally, possibly by offering a rebate to people who dispose of them properly, her spokesman Larry Levin said.
Meanwhile, Reid continues patrolling East Oakland dumping hot spots such as the corner of Moorpark and Russet streets, where there were two mattresses, a couch and a chair in the street. It looked bad, but Reid said it has been worse.
"Last week you couldn't even make a right turn here it was so full of debris."
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.