In their latest attempt to eradicate the growing plague across the city, San Jose leaders plan to impose heavy fines on those who may choose to illegally throw away unwanted trash, materials, or even roadside furniture.
San Jose City Council is expected to approve an increase in illegal dumping fines to $ 10,000 for the first and subsequent offenses on Tuesday evening. The city’s current illegal dumping fines are $ 2,500 for the first offense, $ 5,000 for the second offense, and $ 10,000 for the third or subsequent offense.
“Irresponsible residents, encouraged by the lack of enforcement and urban services curtailed by the pandemic, are turning our streets into landfills,” Councilors Sergio Jimenez and Raul Peralez wrote in a memo. “… It is time the city took a tough stance on illegal dumping.”
The proposal, drafted by Jimenez and Peralez last month, has the support of at least five of the eleven city council members. However, some residents fear that the move could cause disproportionate harm to low-income residents, including those who are not housed.
Although San Jose has long struggled to curb illegal dumping and clean up the growing number of homeless camps across the city, the problem escalated during the pandemic as authorities halted cuts and many city workers resigned from their primary duties have been reassigned to other pandemic-related tasks. And as residents drive past camps and see garbage piling up, some have apparently felt more liberated to throw their own garbage on the piles.
There are about 200 known homeless camps and illegal landfills across the city, according to San Jose officials. Still, only about 10% of it is inspected and cleaned up weekly – a routine that would be required in any location to keep the city really clean, officials said last year.
City guides hope that quadrupling the fine for first-time violations will deter residents from engaging in illegal dumping.
Jimenez and Peralez wrote in their memo that the increase “sends a clear message that we will no longer tolerate this illegal and harmful behavior and that it has dire consequences for those who disregard our communities through illegal dumping.”
In addition to increasing the fines, council members have asked the city’s lawyer to consider paying out cash rewards to residents who report illegal dumping tips that result in citations and fines.
“San Jose residents deserve to be proud of their neighborhood and to enjoy clean and safe city streets,” Jimenez and Peralez wrote in their memo. “We are confident that increasing fines, increasing enforcement and rewarding residents who report, will complement current efforts to clean up our city and finally begin to prevent illegal dumping.”
Mayor Sam Liccardo and Councilors Dev Davis and Pam Foley support the proposal and urge the city to do more to raise awareness of the options residents have to dispose of items that require special treatment, for example the city’s free garbage collection program.
A 2019 study by San Jose State University found that 85% of single-family home residents knew and used the city’s free trash collection program, but only 50% of rental properties.
“We can capture and correct behaviors that negatively affect our community while looking for ways to reinforce positive behavior,” the mayor and councilors wrote in their memo.
Despite the support of city guides, the proposal to increase the fines has generated mixed reactions from San Jose residents.
Taylor Clark, a member of the San Jose Strong organization, described the proposed increase in fines as “outrageous”. Rather than punishing people, Clark has asked city guides to increase funding and programming so they can learn how to properly handle their trash.
“It directly harms our unhoused neighbors, promotes a culture of punitive, divisive attitudes towards our most vulnerable community members, and does nothing to address the root causes of landfill,” she wrote in a letter to the council.
Jimenez and Peralez acknowledged the concerns and last week released an updated proposal to assess “fair implementation measures to reduce the risk of disproportionate impacts on low-income, underserved communities”.
Councilors have proposed delaying implementation to allow proper notification, creating payment plans or fee waivers for residents facing financial difficulties, or allowing people to participate in community service cleanups in lieu of fines.
“San Jose needs a comprehensive approach to address this growing problem,” they wrote.
This story will be updated after the city council meeting on Tuesday evening. Check back for the final city council vote on the matter.