Fresno County to crack down on illegal dumping

Two new ordinances look to increase fines, allow authorities to seize vehicles of repeat offenders

The Fresno County Board of Supervisors at one of their biweekly convenings.
Darren Fraser
Published May 22, 2024  • 
10:00 am

FRESNO COUNTY – Vowing to put more teeth into the law and make the fines sting for illegal dumping, the Fresno County Board of Supervisors approved two companion ordinances following their first reading, setting up a final approval at the Board’s next meeting on June 4. 

“The goal of the ordinance is to impose the financial responsibility of illegal dumping on those that engage in that illegal act,” said Kyle Roberson, Fresno County senior deputy county counsel, regarding the first ordinance.

Roberson presented the Board at its May 21 meeting with an overview of the ordinances. Roberson said the first ordinance elevates illegal dumping from an infraction to a misdemeanor. The new classification gives the county more legal clout to punish offenders.

“The penalties will sting,” he said.

The proposed ordinance introduces three levels of violations. The first level is an infraction. Littering falls under this category. According to the ordinance, an individual cited for littering can be fined $100 for the violation. If the individual reoffends within a year, they will be fined $200. If the individual proves to be a serial litterer, they will be fined $500 for every ensuing violation that occurs within one year of the first violation.

Roberson said the big fines involve major violations, with no gray area separating these from infractions.

“Anything above that (infraction) will be (considered) illegal dumping,” he said. “So, if you have someone throwing out a bag of trash, that would be illegal dumping. That would be $1,000 if it doesn’t rise to the level of a major violation.

Roberson said major violations include both large quantities of trash and large individual items. A large quantity of trash would be three cubic yards. A large item is a refrigerator, couch, a large appliance, etc. For these violations, an individual can be fined up to $3,000 for each offense.

“So, if a person dumps a refrigerator, a couch and a washer…,” said Supervisor Steve Brandau

“That’s $3,000 for each,” Roberson answered. “$9,000 total.”

“That’s real teeth,” said Brandau.

Roberson said the ordinance also establishes a mechanism that allows the county to link the origin of the trash to the dumper. Investigators, such as sheriff’s deputies, would check the trash for mail or anything that can identify the individual. Roberson added the ordinance also allows county agencies to go after trash haulers who dump illegally. 

SEIZURE, IMPOUND OF NUISANCE VEHICLES

The second ordinance would target vehicles used in illegal dumping. The ordinance, titled “Seizure and Impound of Nuisance Vehicles” allow county agencies, such as the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office (FSO) to seize, impound and hold up to 30 days any vehicle or trailer used to illegally dump trash, provided the owner or operator of the vehicle has been cited for the same offense.

“In addition to the fines, that’s thousands of dollars in impound fees,” Board chairman Nathan Magsig said. “That will sting.”

In a conference following the meeting, the entire Board, Chief Deputy District Attorney Manuel Jimenez and FSO sergeant John Wages spoke to reporters about the proposed ordinances. 

Magsig said illegal dumping has increased in the county since COVID.

“I don’t know why,” he said. “We cleaned over 1,200 (illegal dumping) sites in 2023 and 2024. I think we spent $1 million last year on cleanups.”

He added that the cost to clean up illegal dumping exceeds the county’s revenue. And he reminded the audience that the cost to legally dump items is nothing compared to what it costs the county to clean up illegal dumping.

“It’s $30 to dispose of one ton of waste at the landfill,” he said. “It costs thousands for crews to go out and clean up illegal dumping. There’s just not enough money.”

Wages was more direct in his responses.

“Residents have to show some self-control,” he said. “Do what’s right.”

He added that the Agriculture Crimes Unit, which includes five detectives, while stretched thin, is vigilant about catching offenders. 

“We conduct surveillance. We operate when it’s dark,” Wages said. “We have a variety of cameras, including a camera that can read license plates.”

Jimenez said the county is taking a multipronged approach, with multiple agencies involved. 

“This includes FSO, CAO and the county counsel,” he said. “We will hold dumpers accountable. The DA (district attorney) will work with all agencies. 

Supervisors Buddy Mendes and Brian Pacheco’s districts are mostly rural – where, according to Pacheco, 43% of illegal dumping occurs. Mendes said the ordinances were long overdue.

“FSO has been battling this for 20 years,” he said. “Why did it take so long?” Mendes said these specific ordinances were needed because the majority of dumping occurs outside of the city limits.

“I have trash dumped on my property. So does Supervisor Pacheco,” he said. He added that the media has to do a better job on educating the public on junk haulers.

“They have to know they’re legitimate,” he said. 

Echoing Wages, Pacheco said residents must take personal responsibility. And learn to be savvy consumers.

“The next time you buy a new mattress or appliance,” he said, “pay to have the old one legally disposed of. It’s not hard.”

Darren Fraser
Reporter