Illegal dumpers caught on camera trashing Oakland: 2 Investigates

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Update: The City of Oakland has issued a $2,351.00 citation against The Hobby Shop, the auto body shop that KTVU caught on camera dumping garbage in Oakland. 

They have until Dec. 20 to appeal or pay.

2 Investigates’ undercover sting caught illegal dumpers in action all over Oakland. It’s a problem that’s costing taxpayers $5.5 million a year, and frustrating local business owners who think the city isn’t doing enough to stop it.

According to records from Oakland’s Public Works department, the city received nearly 20,000 reports of illegal dumping between October 2015 and October 2016. But during that same period the city only issued 65 citations for illegal dumping, totaling just over $209,000 in fees collected.

City leaders say it’s hard to hold violators accountable and collect fines because dumping is a crime that’s tough to catch, prove, and prosecute. The city has been leaning heavily on citizens reporting dumping themselves and taking their own pictures or videos in order to report law-breakers.

“We all need to keep our eyes out for someone who is doing it so we can report them and stop that behavior,” said Mayor Libby Schaaf.

Now, the city is rolling out new tactics to fight the multi-million dollar illegal dumping problem. But many residents tell 2 Investigates they’re frustrated with clean-up efforts and want tougher prevention instead.

 “I think they should be fined. I think they should have their vehicle impounded. I think they should be arrested,” said West Oakland business owner Michael Herling. “There has to be some punitive measure.”

Schaaf says in the last five years the amount of illegal dumping in Oakland has doubled. The city currently employs 38 full-time workers to clean up illegal dump sites seven days a week, according to the mayor’s office.

“We are looking at what kind of operational tweaks we can make to respond much more quickly,” said Schaaf. "We know we've got to do better.”

The mayor says crews are picking up 86 percent of illegally dumped garbage within three days of receiving a report. Nonetheless, residents say many streets are still constantly littered with debris, mattresses, and garbage because workers cannot keep up with the influx of trash.

“Unless I’m missing something, picking up garbage is not the solution to stopping illegal dumping,” said Herling. “There has to be an increased level of enforcement and we need the city to do their job.”

Schaaf says there are no plans to hire litter patrol officers or special enforcement teams. But since the problem has rapidly grown over the past few years it has become a priority for the mayor’s office and the city council.

“We're trying to attack illegal dumping with three different prongs: educate, eradicate and enforce,” said Schaaf. “We have seen this incredible increase, and so we've been trying different things to see what makes a difference.”

Those strategies include purchasing four new mobile cameras with license plate reading technology, which will be positioned and moved to various dumping hot spots around the city. The cameras come at a total cost of $100,000, approved by the city council.

“We believe these new cameras are going to be a very effective tool for us to actually catching illegal dumpers,” said Schaaf, when asked if a handful of cameras would be enough to spot dumpers across the entire city.

Last month the city council also voted to make permanent a rewards program that would give part of collected fines back to citizens who helps catch dumpers. However, according to city records only 15 people collected reward money during the program’s year-long pilot period.

Schaff said she believes educating the public about the rewards program will help curb the problem by encouraging citizens to report dumping through the city’s phone tipline or mobile app.

“We need every Oaklanders’ eyes on the streets so we know about illegal dumping as soon as it happens.”

West Oakland business owner Buffy Cereske says she’s repeatedly used the city’s “See Click Fix” app to report a burned out bus in front of her shop, but still had to wait weeks for someone to remove it. On the day KTVU visited her corner, the bus was still there despite city officials telling Cereske that the issue had been resolved.

“We really feel like we're the forgotten neighborhood out here,” said Cereske. “I just think if it was in a better part of town or across the street from Libby Schaaf's house then it would be picked up right away.”

“I can tell you every Oaklander feels like their neighborhood is the most neglected neighborhood and that is not right,” said Schaaf. “It pains me. It pains me when I see that level of disrespect and the impact that it has on the children that have to walk by it.”

Many residents and business owners told 2 Investigates that the cost to taxpayers also frustrates them.

“It's costing the city millions of dollars and people just get away with it because they know they can,” shop owner John Beckwith said. “It's ridiculous.”

Beckwith says he’s seen boats, trailers, dead animals, and hazardous waste dumped in the street in front of his East Oakland business.

“People go to the Coliseum, if they take these side roads and drive through this they'd think they're in a third world country,” he said. Like many residents and business owners, he wants the city to dedicate more money to litter enforcement, undercover stings, or police patrols.

“There's nothing here to catch people in the act,” he said.

So 2 Investigates set up our own cameras at various dumping hot spots around Oakland and caught dumpers in the act immediately. Surveillance video in East and West Oakland captured people in cars, on bikes, and on foot tossing trash, mattresses, and bags of garbage into the streets.

During a KTVU undercover sting near Beckwith’s shop, it only took two hours before a truck loaded up with pallets, gas cans, and port-a-potty pulled into the dark dead-end street. The 2 Investigates team witnessed three men tossing light bulbs and trash onto the sidewalk. When approached, one man yelled an expletive before all three hurried back into the truck and sped away.

According to the DMV, the truck’s license plate is registered to an auto body shop in on 96th Avenue in East Oakland called The Hobby Shop. When 2 Investigates knocked on their door looking for answers, a woman who would only identify herself as “Rose” at first denied knowing anything about the pick-up truck.

But KTVU cameras found the same pick-up truck, with the same license plate, loaded up with trash and parked less than a block away from the shop.

“Rose” said the business owner was out of town and insisted that the shop always brought its trash to the dump. She repeatedly offered to produce their dump receipts.

But when questioned about the truck and the men caught on camera throwing trash on the street in East Oakland, “Rose” again said, “We take everything to the dump. We're a business. We're a well-established business. We pay all our taxes. We pay lots and lots of taxes to this city to keep these streets clean.”

Before the 2 Investigates team left, a worker from the Hobby Shop helped “Rose” secure a tarp over the pick-up truck full of debris. She said he would take the load directly to the dump.

“This must be a bigger thing overall, not just the one incident that may have come from us,” said “Rose.” “For me it's something where as a business in this community, okay, let's band together as a community and start cleaning this up.” She did not admit to any wrong-doing, despite 2 Investigates’ cameras catching the Hobby Shop’s truck on camera.

“It's sad. It's sad,” said Beckwith. “That's probably what bothers me the most is seeing what people are doing to Oakland.”

To report illegal dumping in Oakland:

  • Call 510-615-5566
  • Email
  • Download the app: Click here
  • Rewards program: Click here