Illegal dumping plagues many areas of San Mateo County, but perhaps none worse than the unincorporated area of North Fair Oaks. Within that neighborhood of some 15,000 residents there are many deserted areas where people dump mattresses, sofas and household junk. The area’s sharp increase in illegal dumping activity can be attributed to overcrowded conditions, evictions, disregard for the law and lack of awareness about available options and dumping policies. Dumping garbage on public property is illegal in California. Perpetrators who are caught face fines of up to $3,000.

In March 2014, Millbrae started working with the Sheriffs Activities League (SAL) Clean Team and Green Team youth programs using a combination of cleanup, prevention, enforcement, and education and community outreach strategies to address the issue.

Local officials in San Mateo County have been working with various Sheriff’s Office patrol units to increase monitoring of problematic areas. Manual Ramirez of the North Fair Oaks Community Council (NFOCC) said garbage clean-up was his number one priority, and that the Public Works Department should increase communication with the Sheriff’s deputies whenever an incident occurs.

NFOCC, San Mateo County and the Sheriff’s Activities League (SAL) Clean/Green Team analyzed strategies to reduce illegal dumping that met the needs of both North Fair Oaks and San Mateo County. To resolve the problem, the group needed to understand why illegal dumping happens. Through community interactions they found that difficulty in recycling large items, lack of knowledge about resources, socioeconomic factors such as multifamily housing, overcrowding, evictions and high rent burden, lack of enforcement (fines and citations), and need for incentives for permitted haulers all contributed to the problem. NFOCC established a working subcommittee to tackle this problem.

By building partnerships within the community and with resource agencies, they developed strategies to address this unsightly, unhealthy and illegal practice. They collaborated with community partners to evaluate which options would best work in North Fair Oaks given the resources available to create and sustain the program.

The majority of successful programs around illegal dumping use a combination of prevention, enforcement, prosecution, education, cleanup, and community outreach strategies. To achieve an effective outreach program SAL engaged the Clean/Green Team. The Clean/Green Team was developed by SAL’s Director of Community Services, Barbara Bonilla in March of 2014. The project was funded through a partnership between San Mateo County Sheriff Greg Munks and San Mateo County Supervisor Warren Slocum. The vision was to create a program that offered the youth of North Fair Oaks not only a job, but a job in their community making it a better place to live.

The Clean /Green Team is a year-round program. During the school year, the team works two Saturdays a month, but over the summer it works two days per week cleaning different areas in the whole North Fair Oaks area as well as schools in Redwood City/North Fair Oaks. Leaders from SAL’s Clean Team are given the opportunity to make a difference in their community by planning and executing weekly clean-up plans and regular community clean-up events.

The program begins by removing trash and debris from a one mile stretch of road. The team members then reach out to businesses and community members nearby and explain the program and the benefits of their clean-up activities. Along with the outreach, team members invite community members to join them in the clean-up efforts, log and report all illegal dumping and graffiti to the appropriate agencies and follows up to make sure the reported issues were being taken care of by the responsible agencies.

Since its inception, the Clean/Green Team collected a total of 87 bags from cleanup events on and around Middlefield Road and adjacent neighborhoods. The group also passed out 2,500 educational flyers to the community and reported 20 areas which had multiple cases of graffiti and illegal dumping. They prevented more than 5,394 gallons of litter that included cigarette butts, plastic bags and other plastic materials from going into storm sewers, local creeks, the San Francisco Bay, and the Pacific Ocean. Illegal dumping that included automotive fluids, furniture, and other items have been reported to the proper agency for removal. Toxic substances such as motor oil and other contaminants can enter local waterways, which are be harmful to wildlife and increased health risks to the community.

The Clean Team/Green Team members also engaged in educational activities, such as field trips to Shoreway Environmental Center and SIMS Metal Management. They heard speakers from Recology (the local scavenger company), the County of San Mateo Recycle Works Program and watched documentary films such as “Plastic Paradise”. The program participants learned about the importance of the 4 Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot [Compost]) and the harmful consequences of unrecycled plastic and toxins in our oceans and waterways.

The Clean Team/Green team program not only focuses on cleaning the environment, but also places great importance toward encouraging youth to make a difference. This program has increased citizen awareness, responsibility, ownership, and pride in their residences, businesses and their community. It has provided tools to educate residents and business owners on how to report illegal dumping and graffiti while also teaching them how to legally dump large items. Additionally, it has helped address problems of chronic litter, illegal dumping, graffiti, and other quality of life issues and has provided the framework for ongoing cleanup and beautification.

The program engages youth in the decision making process and taught them to take responsibility for their own neighborhoods and empowering them to be an active part of the solution.

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Originally posted at the League of CA Cities.