Atascadero has a new ban on the books: the practice of picking through waste bins to look for recyclables to cash in or unwanted food to eat.
On Dec. 9, the Atascadero City Council passed a new law, dubbed an anti-scavenging ordinance, which makes the activity an infraction. The ordinance was the product of numerous complaints from residents in recent years, said Atascadero Police Chief Jerel Haley, who told the council that there were three concerns driving the ordinance: safety to residents, ongoing incidents in which trash and debris were left behind after rummaging, and identity theft concerns.
The risks of identity theft held a particular gravity for Haley, who characterized it as “one of the burgeoning crime areas in our society today.”
The council previously considered this ordinance, but delayed making a decision after Councilmember Roberta Fonzi expressed some concern that prohibiting these activities would cut a lifeline used by some who are “down on their luck.”
That some people may resort to gathering recyclables, food, or other unwanted goods was brought up by one Atascadero resident.
“I see this ordinance as another attempt to criminalize poverty,” Michael Conger said. “I feel that is wrong, and I don’t want to see my city do that.”
Conger was one of three members of the public who spoke; two other residents had favorable words about the ordinance.
“We regularly get woken up at 3:30 a.m. by cars, people talking loudly, rummaging through the trash, leaving stuff out on the street,” said John Sanders. “I fully support this ordinance.”
While the issue didn’t take long to process, there was still time for the discussion to touch on both the practical and philosophical points of how scavenging plays a role in being both a potential source of aid for those who need it, and in diverting recyclables from the waste stream, whereas bottles and cans thrown into trash cans at places like city parks may otherwise be recovered.
The council underscored that there are programs in the city that offer food and housing aid, and that recycling programs have become rather efficient.
Before the 5-0 vote supporting the ordinance, Chief Haley addressed the concerns.
“Prior to implementation of these types of ordinances, the council gives great thought of what are we doing to provide to this community,” Haley said.
-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay