Open Letter to Mayor Libby Schaaf and the City of Oakland— “Illegal Dumping”

Critical feedback and alternative solutions to addressing the issue of “illegal dumping” in Oakland.— May 3, 2018

By Shaniece Alexander

I’m writing to you as a three year renter in District 7 and leader of an equity driven community based organization. I am a frustrated Oaklander and must offer critical feedback and alternative solutions to addressing the issue of “illegal dumping” in Oakland based on the proposal presented by Mayor Libby Schaaf on May 2, 2018. In this letter I will offer four practical solutions in hopes that they will be taken into consideration as the City moves forward in its policy implementation.

As a social justice advocate, I’ve committed my organizing efforts in Oakland around centering economic and health equity through policy and practice. This work crosses the intersections of community food systems, bridges generations, economic classes, and impacts a diversity of ethnic and cultural groups. It must be known that the recent announcement by Mayor Schaaf to roll out an “aggressive new approach to combating her city’s rampant and often disgusting litter problem,” is a reactive, ineffective response to addressing Oakland’s ongoing issue of blight that’s only been exacerbated by the housing crisis and rampant displacement of people of color and poor community members in Oakland.

The decision to spend $500,000 (of which the funding source has not been communicated) to hire three “litter enforcement officers” or “trash detectives” as the mayor states, is neither an aggressive or remotely reasoned solution to rectifying the current and/or future dumping of trash in Oakland. In fact, this proposal will purposefully increase the policing and criminalization of communities of color. It seems that this money could be more effectively used as a resource to address the immediate concerns of community members while setting a practical foundation for ongoing action to solve the underlying problem, which is mass displacement of people who work, advocate for, and raise their children in a city that they cannot afford to live in.

As a transplant from Chicago and having been born and raised in Detroit, cities who have experienced similar issues with displacement and irresponsible municipal leadership, the incessant number of tactless development, fiscal, neighborhood planning, and policy decisions made by Oakland’s elected officials have deepend this problem. These decisions continuously waste valuable resources and do not address the actual gaps within the City’s infrastructure. Why does this continue to happen when there are so many examples of community driven, fiscally responsible, practical examples of people centered urban development solutions addressing similar issues in cities around the country and world? This is especially disappointing as I work directly with community members that have, for years, offered viable solutions that aim to create healthier communities and yet, the leadership continues to disregard these solutions and actively perpetuate harm throughout its communities. What I offer below are reasonable solutions that strengthen infrastructure to address both urgent concerns and increases long-term community health.

Alternative, outcome based solutions to proposal:

  1. Increase the number of bulk item pick up days . From my research, the city of Oakland provides only four free bulk item pick up days a year or by appointment, which can take up to two weeks. Understanding the reality of the housing crisis, it seems like a relatively simple and almost immediate solution for the City to begin efforts by increasing the number of days per month for neighborhood cleaning and community waste management.
  2. Roll out an intensive, city clean up program focusing on getting the current trash off of the streets (there’s a great opportunity to create some immediate jobs for community members here).
  3. Invest in public dumpsters and recycling receptacles for large items throughout neighborhoods. With the number of vacant lots and unused public spaces, this seems like a on the ground solution (even if temporarily) for providing places for people to legally dispose of bulk items and the large amounts of trash that may come from being evicted or displaced increasing the opportunity for community members to responsibly discard of their trash.
  4. Provide specific and easily accessible info about public dumpsters and recycling receptacles. If people, under stress and already lacking resources don’t have the opportunity to do the responsible thing then it is less likely to happen and unwanted dumping will continue.


Shaniece Alexander, MSW

Executive Director, Oakland Food Policy Council


City of Chicago, Streets and Sanitation — Garbage Grid Collection

Detroit Department of Public Works Bulk Pick Up Program

Ladhe T., Magnusson J., Nilsson A. (2014) From Trash to Cash: A Case of Waste Management Business Model Formation. In: Rocha Á., Correia A., Tan F., Stroetmann K. (eds) New Perspectives in Information Systems and Technologies, Volume 1. Advances in Intelligent Systems and Computing, vol 275. Springer, Cham