San Jose City Council Considers Crackdown on Illegal Dumping

UPDATE: In a unanimous vote Tuesday, the City Council adopted new penalties for illegal dumping. The fines range from $2,500 for the first violation to $5,000 and $10,000 for subsequent violations. That's far higher than the fees recommended by staff, which topped out at $3,000.

To crack down on illegal dumping, San Jose may enact steep fines for people who leave their junk on the streets. The City Council will vote on the plan when it meets Tuesday.

Proposed fines would range from $1,000 for a first offense, to $1,500 for a second and $3,000 for subsequent violations.

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According to city staff, illegal dumping has increased by 75 percent overall and 50 percent on public property in the past three years. But the lack of a code prohibiting the practice renders the city’s efforts to combat it “reactive and insufficient.”

San Jose—the only major Bay Area city without fines for unauthorized dumping—budgeted $250,000 last year to clean up unwanted items left on the streets. But that money only covered one-time cleanups, not preventative efforts.

An August study on the dumping problem found that people dumped their unwanted furniture and other junk on the streets because of a lack of convenient, affordable and timely disposal options.

As part of the 2014-15 budget, the city included large item collection in the waste service for apartments. Having an on-call service increased the number of large-item collections almost tenfold, according to the city, from 2,000 collections in 2013-14 to 19,500 last year.

The city identified apartment dwellers as the biggest offenders because renters may be less invested in the community and absentee landlords fail to respond to problems.

By leveraging resources from various city departments—primarily Planning, Building and Code Enforcement as well as Environmental Services—the city hopes to bolster preventative measures.

“Additionally, city departments will collaborate to refine the community reporting process by leveraging technology and streamlining our call taking procedures,” according to a memo by Planning chief Harry Freitas and Environmental Services director Kerrie Romanow.

Some of the “hot spots” for illegal dumping include downtown around San Jose State University and neighborhoods on the east and west sides of the city. The city will reach out to community groups to enlist their help in monitoring those areas instead of waiting to respond to complaints.

More from the San Jose City Council agenda for October 27, 2015:

  • Given the high probability of a stormy El Niño-soaked winter, San Jose is developing a preparedness plan to protect flood-prone neighborhoods and the thousands of unsheltered homeless residents.

WHAT: City Council meets
WHEN: 1:30pm Tuesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. The “fines” are not strong enough to deter illegal-dumping.

    There should also be vehicle seizures to make illegal-dumping really hurt.

    David S. Wall

  2. Per the Merc article, SF & Oakland have had dumping fines for years. But does it work? No data I’ve seen, but anecdotal evidence says no – fines don’t work.

    What’s more effective is gainsharing: giving a percentage of the *collected* fines to those that report the dumping – i.e., rat out your neighbor.

    Omitted in the proposal is how is the city expected to collect? Can a low income or homeless person get their fines reduced? What’s the collection mechanism?

    Nothing about remediation either. What about using the free Sheriff weekend work program (some are available during the week) labor to cleanup?

    • Good idea. If caught, I think they should have to spend at least 8 weekends cleaning up dump sites. Bet their tune would change. Also, with all of the stuff dumped in that photo, that had to take a lot of time and make a lot of noise. I can’t believe that no one saw it or reported it while the dumping was in progress.

  3. Hmmm.

    Maybe the city should come up with programs to encourage more private property ownership.

    Private property owners have far fewer sociopathic problems like dumping, homelessness, code violations, loud parties, vandalism, auto theft, burglaries, muggings, graffiti, etc. etc. than renters and transients.

  4. So all these signs that threaten me with a $1000 fine for dumping my old refrigerator are bogus. Shouldn’t we fine someone for dumping bogus signs?
    We seem to want more apartment and condo dwellers that drive smart cars in town, and have no way to get rid of that old hide-a-bed.
    Well they could always ask some old farmer friend to come pick it up and dump it up on the hill.

    Who’s going to go catch these dumpers , Al Gore?
    This takes man or woman or LGBTPO power to enforce and camera’s that cover popular dump sites.
    More cop or snitches, Maybe we should invent “Snitch Taxes or Snitch fines”!

    • They COULD dump it on a hill… or you know, fill out the Large Item Collection Request Form and have it picked up for literally free.

      And “Snitch fines” as you put it did come up during last city hall meeting. They tossed around ideas similar to Oakland’s fines. When the dumper is caught and fined, half of the fine will be rewarded to the resident that reported and help catch the dumper.

  5. Each respondent so far has identified the pink elephant in the new/existing policy – enforcement. Fines are one thing but who is gonna enforce the policy??!!

    In the Merc article, the ESD director was quoted as saying current personnel & resources are taxed to the breaking point.

    So great, on the off chance that someone illegally dumping furniture leaves their name and address on the items, then maybe the city can levy the new fine…

    The solution isn’t a new fine, the solution is four fold:
    – a surcharge or tax on all furniture & department stores. The charge then goes back to the city to afford the clean ups;

    – fining lanlords and property owners whose property the items end up in front of. Yes, it’s unfair but I bet you they all become more vigilant about dumping and clean up;

    – have the city expand its “pay for pick up program”

    – work with municipal dumps to reduce or elimate costs for furniture and mattresses. Many people don’t go to the dump because the fees.

    This is another example of why CSJ is so screwed up.

    • Bully Pulpit,

      Those suggestions won’t work all that well. I doubt they would work as well as this proposal.

      • A surcharge? Then people will just order online, or go to a neighboring city to buy. Because a surcharge will be added to the cost, see?

      • I used to own a small shopping center. I’m not a policeman, so how do you propose that owners should be “more vigilant”? What would you do if junk appeared on your property between midnight and dawn? It takes about 30 seconds to dump stuff. What, exactly, would you do, even if you caught them in the act?

      • Santa Clara has an annual trash pickup that is very popular. It’s also very expensive. How do you propose to argue that the city of SJ should make that a top priority?

      Same thing with ‘working with municipal dumps’. That means money. Who pays?

      • The solution is simple, some residents are just too stupid to invest 2-3 mins and look up h

        These people don’t even need to load their junk on their truck and risk getting a fine, if they just made a phone call.

  6. The city will “collaborate” I have to laugh when I hear the usual City Hall “buzzwords” It all feels good on paper on during the Tuesday City Hall circus. Its all fluff and window dressing… SAM has no plan Thanks again WG for promoting the giant smiling turd on the 18th floor… Ya’ll done good!

  7. The increase in illegal dumping is directly correlated to increase in illegal immigration. Let’s be honest here, people that dump could care less they did not make an investment in this community.

  8. Given that we were progressive enough to install newborn dumpsters at local fire houses (to accommodate the south of the border diversity that gives us our strength), why can’t we brainstorm and solve this problem without resorting to criminal penalties (laws are old white guy solutions… that’s so yesterday)? I’m thinking of a solution that acknowledges and celebrates the cultural values behind the challenge, something along the lines of designating the Mexican Heritage Plaza as a fee-free public dump. That way the would-be litterers could avoid breaking the law and local residents could gather there and take in the cultural display.

  9. By increasing fines and developing apps like to report illegal dumpers, hopefully we can post and share their photos to shame them. Maybe increase fines and shame will have would-be litterers think twice.

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