Sunday, July 13, 2008

Litter and Illegal Dumping

Have you ever noticed that some parts of South Berkeley and North Oakland are awash in litter? Take a really close look at Shattuck Avenue Between Berkeley Bowl and Alcatraz. It is a dump heap. Unfortunately, this is typical of our community. Although many in South Berkeley and North Oakland pride themselves on being environmentally sound and green, they do little to stem the tide of litter and illegal dumping, turning a blind eye. Eventually, much of this garbage makes its way into our streams and creeks and the San Francisco Bay.

Recently, while driving in Montclair, Rockridge, Moraga, Walnut Creek and Mill Valley, I took notice of how clean those neighborhoods/communities are. I was hard pressed to find litter and saw absolutely no illegal dumping. In South Berkeley and North Oakland, I can walk any number of places, anytime of the day or night and see the accumulation of litter and the remains of illegal dumpers.

Recently, one resident reported to me that on the 1900 Block of Harmon/65th Street she picked up three shoppings bags full of litter. This included used condoms, drug bags, cigarettes and cigars, alcohol containers, and fast food wrappers all from the local drug dealers who have taken up residence on the block.

The other day, while waiting at a stop light, I noticed a young African American man in a Cadillac Escalade roll down his window and toss out a piece of garbage. I pulled up and gently said, "Excuse me, I think you dropped something". He looked at me, laughed, and said "No I didn't, I threw it there". It's all about attitude. That is the key.

Due to socio-economic issues, we have a large number of residents who feel alienated and have no sense of ownership of their community. Consequently, they dispose of garbage and litter on the streets and sidewalks as a protest, feeling that it gives them some degree of power, that someone else will have to pick up their trash. Sadly, they don't realize that money spent picking up litter, sweeping the streets, and disposing of illegally dumped refuse could go to job training, childcare, parks, and any other number of services that could help lift people out of poverty and provide opportunities for advancement. The lack of respect for community is really a lack of respect for oneself and a protest against their standing in society.

Besides attitude, some suggest that the City of Oakland and Berkeley do not do enough to pick up litter, clean the streets and remove illegally dumped items. Some even go further and suggest that the lack of city services is due to racist or discriminatory policies--South Berkeley and North Oakland do not get the same level of services as North Berkeley, Rockridge or Claremont. Others suggest that other communities like Moraga, Walnut Creek, and Mill Valley have more more money and can afford more frequent street sweeping and litter control. Yet others suggest that we live in a more dense urban environment and consequently there will simply be a higher voume of litter. Others just choose to close their eyes and pretend it doesn't even exist while they wade through the urban refuse.

Packaging, our disposable culture, lack of education, fast food outlets--there is always something or someone else to blame. But what about personal responsibility? Garbage and litter are the direct result of individuals choosing to throw their trash and garbage on our streets and sidewalk. Perhaps we need to start with respect for self, respect for the community and personal responsibility along with a dose of accountability.

Help our community look clean, choose to pick up some litter and put it in its place, tidy up the sidewalk and gutter, and call the City of Berkeley or Oakland when you see illegal dumping taking place.

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