Efforts Underway to Address Trash and Illegal Dumping


As cities across the region grapple with the homeless crisis, one impact has made itself very apparent in recent months – trash and debris. Arguably this is the number one issue constituents have contacted my office about so far this year, and rightfully so. This is a health and safety hazard, both for people’s personal wellbeing, and the environment.  I wanted to let you know what the City is doing to improve this situation.

Last year, the Council approved my budget recommendation to allocate an additional $100,000 towards addressing illegal dumping. This money is already being put to use, with a recent operation by Public Works staff in Northwest Berkeley removing 18,300lbs (9.15 tons) of trash and debris in just one day. One of the areas cleaned up in that operation was Codornices Creek. In November, Berkeley voters generously approved Measure P, the increase in the transfer tax for high-end properties, generating an additional $6-$8 million annually. We are considering dedicating part of this new revenue source towards encampment trash removal. Also, under SB 850 – the California Homeless Emergency Aid Program, or HEAP – Berkeley will be receiving a one-time funding of $4 million to address homelessness, of which we plan on allocating $880k towards encampment trash/debris removal and cleanup.

It is critical that the City of Berkeley significantly increase its resources to clean up our streets and reduce illegal dumping. Our residents and visitors deserve safe and clean streets. For the past few months, I have been working with City Staff to identify funding for more cleanups and a plan to address dumping. This Clean City Streets initiative will be coming to the City Council at a special meeting on Thursday, February 28, 2019 at 6pm, at the BUSD Board Room (1231 Addison Street). Please write to Council at Council@cityofberkeley.info or attend to speak on this important issue.

Out of all the calls and emails I have received around trash and debris, the majority are relating to areas along the Eastshore Freeway. The issue is this area is under the jurisdiction of Caltrans and the City does not have the authority to go in and clean it up ourselves. Saying that, the City Manager, several Councilmembers, and I have continuously pushed Caltrans to take responsibility. Upon further inquiry, Caltrans revealed that they contract out the work to clean up the area, which is done bi-weekly. However, for several months the contractor did not fulfill their obligations. As a result, Caltrans has since replaced them. I recently had a meeting with our Caltrans District Director, where we had a productive conversation. He assured me that more resources will be committed to ensuring the proper maintenance and cleanup of the area. I am committed to improving communication channels between the City and Caltrans to prevent such escalations of trash from happening again.

Under my term as Mayor, the City has allocated more resources to address trash than ever before. Yet the question that is asked is, why do things appear to have gotten worse? The answer is due to a complex combination of multiple variables of local, regional, statewide, national, and even international factors (for example, China recently banned the import of tens of millions of tons of recyclable waste, meaning we can no longer ship away a lot of our plastics, resulting in much of it ending up on our streets). I also want to make it clear that while trash tends to accumulate by encampments, residents of those encampments are not the only cause of trash. Rather, encampments invite illegal dumping by others. Ultimately, this requires a collective effort of local, regional, and statewide partners to deal with this problem. I am committed to leading those efforts.

As we continue to address trash and debris, I encourage you to report any trash you come across using our 311 system. This is something I do every time I come across a pile of trash, and it allows the City to prioritize the most impacted areas. Below are some useful numbers and links to report trash and illegal dumping:

Reporting trash on City property:

  • Phone: 311 (from a landline) or 510-981-CITY (510-981-2489)

  • Online

Reporting trash on Caltrans property:

You can also report illegal dumping through the SeeClickFix App.

With the additional resources and funding we have received over the past six months, we will be making plenty of inroads in the coming weeks and months on this issue. I will continue to prioritize this and will be happy to hear your suggestions and concerns.

Jesse Arreguin