PORTLAND DAILY SUN
24 hours or $100, city tightens rules on sidewalk dumping
By Matt Dodge
Feb 25, 2011 12:00 am
Portland property owners will now be financially responsible for household items left on sidewalks and streets in front of their buildings after the city council voted unanimously Wednesday night to amend the city's garbage, waste and junk disposal ordinances.
Property owner who fail to remove items including mattresses, sofas and chairs will now be assessed a minimum $100 fee if they fail to take action within 24 hours of being notified by the city.
The new ruling ramps up the time frame of the previous system, under which property owners were given three notices to remove trash before a fine was assessed.
“Something that would take at least a week now has the potential to take 24 hours. I think this is a more appropriate, streamlined approach,” said City Councilor Dave Marshall, whose district include Parkside and the West End.
Marshall said the mandate for a swifter response should help to combat any perception among residents that such dumping is acceptable. “Once you get one piece outside, unless you deal with it, you give the message to people that it’s okay and the situation can quickly spiral out of control,” he said.
Some councilors expressed concern that dumpers may come from miles around to unload their junk in an urban area where it won’t be noticed or traced back to them.
"Some cities have drive-by shootings. We have drive-by dumpings," said City Councilor Ed Suslovic. The program will be reviewed in six months.
For Portland, large curbside trash items have been a growing problem ever since the city eliminated a heavy item pickup program three years ago amid large-scale budget trimming.
The issue came to a head last summer as some renters, wary of a perceived bed bug epidemic or maybe just cleaning house, dumped couches, mattresses and other furniture along Portland’s sidewalks and streets.
“It’s been an issue for a while. Over the summer we saw a many bulky, large items being left in sidewalks, so the city council asked city staff to come up with some sort of proposal to address the problem,” said city spokesperson Nicole Clegg.
“Part of the problem is we really didn't have a means for enforcement; now we can have someone who can go and inspect and get in contact with the property owner. By and large once that happens, the property owner is compliant,” she said.
That someone is Suzanne Hunt, the newly hired sanitation compliance officer who will respond to complaints as a liaison between property owners and the city.
Under the new system, if a property owner refuses to remove garage from their property, the city will pay for the collection of the waste and then bill the owner. The city may put a lien on a property if owners do not pay the charge.
Each infraction will carry a minimum fee of $100, and the city may charge an additional $100 for every cubic yard of material removed.
“It’s trying to raise public awareness that sidewalks are not the appropriate place to dispose of large items or anything that's not in a blue bag put out on trash day,” said Clegg.
“It’s a community consciousness we’re hoping to raise an awareness around. We’re hopeful that by raising awareness, property owners and residents on street, when they see someone dumping something, will make it clear to them it’s not appropriate,” she said.
While the new guidelines might seem strict and swift to some, city councilors say it’s a measured response to a growing problem.
“There was some concern expressed saying that it was a little heavy handed, and I hear what they’re saying," said Marshall, "but when you look at some of the conditions we have in some of the more densely populated urban neighborhoods, it become quite apparent that the city needs to have a quick response to mattresses, couches and overflowing dumpsters.”
Marshall said there is a “chronic pattern associated with landlords who don't live in city and are neglecting their property,” but suggested that covert, dump-in-the-night litterbugs might also be to blame — something the neighborhood prosecutor will have to investigate when assessing fines.
“If we contact the landlord and their response is ‘somebody just dumped all this on my property’ we’ll have them talk to our neighborhood prosecutor and she can ask questions like 'what did they look like, what kind of vehicle did they drive?’ and we’ll pursue that individual,” said Marshall.
“If it’s a situation where it doesn't seem like the city had a clear case to pin responsibility on that landlord, the city obviously isn't going to force it,” he said. “Our goal is to try to keep our streets clean and safe, and this measure will allow us to respond more quickly.”