Discouraging Dumping on Rural Roads
One of the most frustrating drawbacks of owning real property that fronts on a road in the unincorporated area of Napa County is that other people sometimes dump garbage along that road frontage. Penal Code Section 374.3 and related sections makes such dumping a crime and sets forth the punishment for conviction. One group of property owners along one of our rural county roads has organized a neighborhood watch to deal with this problem.
First, the group cleaned up the existing dumpsites along their road at their own expense so that they could start with a clean slate. They then circulated a list of cars and trucks owned by residents to the neighbors participating in the program. Neighbors watched for any vehicle not on that list that looked like it could be carrying material to be dumped (loaded trucks, etc.). If such a vehicle was sighted and if the circumstances were appropriate, the driver of the vehicle was contacted by a resident to determine their intentions. If contact seemed inappropriate, discreet surveillance was initiated. Several potential dumpers were discouraged in this manner.
When, in spite of these preventive efforts, trash is discovered along their road, the residents investigate to see if they can obtain a clue as to whose garbage was dumped. If the probable owner is identified, then at least two witnesses view the site, the garbage is photographed and a map made showing the exact location of the site. The group then cleans up the trash, keeping copies of appropriate material and a record of their time and expenses for the clean-up.
The neighborhood watch group then sends a certified letter to the person identified as the possible owner of the garbage describing the actions they have taken. They enclose a copy of a Dumping Violation Report which was sent to the Sheriff's office at the same time as the certified letter. The letter gives the owner of the garbage the option of paying the group the costs they have expended for the clean-up by a date certain. The alternative is recourse to the small claims and criminal courts. The certified letter serves as the first demand for payment required in the small claims process. If nothing is heard in response to the certified letter, the group then asks the Sheriff to proceed with a complaint to the District Attorney's office. The group also initiates a parallel small claims action.
To date, the initial letter has been enough to compensate the group for the funds expended and to motivate the individuals contacted to keep better track of their garbage in the future. The group continues to stay in touch with the Sheriff and the District Attorney to ensure that they are following the appropriate steps should a future incident end up in court. The key issue is to identify the person who was the owner of the garbage because it is often impossible to identify the person who dumped the garbage. The owner of the garbage is considered as responsible for the clean-up costs and any violation of the law as is the person who dumped the garbage.
This particular Neighborhood Watch has been very successful in discouraging dumping along the road that serves their properties. Other residents with rural road frontage who believe their neighbors might wish to pursue this option to keep their properties and our county roads free of illegal dumping may contact the Napa County Sheriff administration at 707-253-4501 to learn more about starting a neighborhood watch program.