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More Foreclosures Could Mean More Illegal Dumping

Submitted by News Desk on Mon, 05/04/2009 - 11:00am

Editor’s Note: Foreclosed homes have many bad consequences and one is that homeowners often have to dispose of household belongings quickly. In East Oakland, where foreclosures are epidemic, residents believe that illegal dumping of household property and trash is on the rise. NAM environmental editor Ngoc Nguyen reports.

OAKLAND, Calif. – Darryl Brumfield knows how to find dumping hotspots. A closed business. The cover of night. No neighbors on either side. Those are the ideal conditions to dump, said Brumfield, who grew up in East Oakland. With the foreclosure crisis ravaging his neighborhood, Brumfield believes illegal dumping is on the rise.

As he steers his black SUV through the narrow streets, Brumfield, a tall and broad-shouldered man wearing a black Raiders cap, stops at railroad tracks near Knight Street, a dumping ground for worn-out mattresses. At the corner of Moorpark and Russet, there’s an empty lot bordering BART tracks on one side, a commercial business on the other and a broken streetlight above.

No DumpingThe pile of garbage includes bags of trash and plant debris, tattered car seats, rusty paint cans, and cracked plastic bottles in a pool of motor oil. Across the street, more debris is scattered along a chain-link fence with a “No Dumping” sign, including tires, sun-baked plastic motor oil bottles, and three rusted metal barrels, containing an unidentified substance.

The foreclosure crisis is making a bad situation worse. Foreclosed homes in the neighborhood are easy to spot. There’s at least one on every block, some with for-sale signposts, others with boarded-up windows. Some yards are overgrown with grass and have already attracted dumpers.

“It pulls down morale. It’s such an eyesore. The grass grows, and it takes no time before taggers come,” said Brumfield, referring to graffiti. “Because it’s abandoned, people treat it like a giant garbage can.”

East Oakland, a mix of older family homes and industrial businesses near the airport, has been especially hard hit by the foreclosure crisis.

“We have the highest number of foreclosed homes in the city of Oakland,” said Councilmember Larry Reid, who represents the 7th District. According to, one out of every 70 housing units in Oakland was in some stage of foreclosure between January and March of 2009.

While the Oakland Public Works department says that the amount of illegal trash collected on city streets has been trending down, their own numbers and the observations of residents in East Oakland suggest that illegal dumping may be going up.

In 2007, 2,608 tons of trash were collected from Oakland streets, according to Assistant Director Brooke Levin. She said that last year the amount of illegally dumped trash collected rose slightly to 2,723 tons, an increase she called “minor,” attributing it to a switchover in tracking systems.

Those numbers may not accurately reflect the changing landscape on East Oakland streets as the foreclosure crisis and sagging economy in the last six months spur more dumping. The department's required six-month report, in fact, is overdue.

Two years ago, city officials announced a crackdown on illegal haulers (the city’s authorized hauler is Waste Management). Dannette Lambert, an organizer with the community group ACORN, said private haulers are in demand again as more people turn to them to quickly dispose of furniture and personal belongings. She said the stuff can end up on the streets as private haulers often times improperly dispose of trash to avoid paying fees.

“It’s getting worse,” said Mary Sanders, who was among about a dozen people who gathered near Brookfield Senior Center last month for a neighborhood clean-up, organized by ACORN. “[The city] cleans up one day and … one or two days later, there’s another pile of stuff. Not just bags of trash…but RVs, trailers. I’ve seen a bus.”

Sanders said she believes people come from out of town to dump in her neighborhood.

“They don’t go up to the hills or San Leandro to dump,” she said. “They go to East Oakland to dump because we’re an older community. A lot of seniors have been living here for years and years.”

Sanders and her neighbors’ vigilance has made a difference. “They don’t dump in front of my house anymore, because they know we’re watching.”

Brumfield said surveillance cameras and signs that threaten fines for dumping could help, but ultimately, he’d like to see neighbors and businesses become more proactive.

He said businesses could pressure the city to do more to prevent it. Trash piles and stagnant pools of water in the street create an unsanitary and undesirable environment for employees, he said.

The trash-strewn streets have prompted Allday Pallets to plan to move its storage pallet business to Modesto.

Fernando Garcia, a truck driver for the business located near Moorpark and Russet streets said the garbage was a nuisance that prevented him from parking his truck outside.

“I’d call the city to pick it up and two days later, [the dumpers] come again and drop garbage,” he said. “Even if we get their license [plate], they dump anytime day or night, but mostly at night time.”

Reid said banks could do more to alleviate the problems that arise from abandoned and deteriorating homes. People want the banks “to make sure foreclosed properties are boarded up, the grass is cut and illegal dumping is cleaned up in timely fashion, if not the city will do it, and place a lien on the property,” he said.

While some people come from outside of the neighborhood to dump, Brumfield said, people who live in the community do it, too.

“I do not absolve people of their responsibility,” he said. “Today is an opportunity to make people more aware of the issue. While I’m cleaning up, I’ll talk to people about it.”

As abandoned homes deteriorate and attract dumping, drug dealing and vandalism, neighboring home values drop and community pride erodes. Brumfield said the loss of pride, and ignorance about how to properly dispose of trash and recycling fuels dumping.

People throw trash away in the sewer and don’t realize that it drains to the bay, he said. Whenever he sees trash in the sewer, Brumfield said, he cringes.

“I used to go out to the bay, the 7th Street pier, to fish. A lot of people like to go fishing, but if you know what is in the bay, you’d probably not eat what you catch,” he said.

Abandoned properties attract more than dumping and vandalism. Brumfield said the vacant home next door to his house attracted drug dealers.

“I was wondering why there were so many cars driving on the street,” said Brumfield, who lives on a usually quiet cul de sac. He said he and a neighbor kept track of license plate numbers and called the police, who raided the house several times, and eventually drove away the dealers.

On the street where he lives, there’s a row of newly built townhouses up against a towering brick wall that abuts the 880 freeway. Two years ago, Brumfield said, the townhouses sold for $660,000. Now, he said they’re worth about half that amount.

He said he thinks more home foreclosures are on the way as more people lose their jobs.

“Things will get worse before they get better,” he said.