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Atascadero passes anti-scavenging ordinance 

People caught going through recycle bins will be cited

AtascaderoThe Atascadero City Council approved, by a 5-0 vote, an anti-scavenging ordinance at its meeting Tuesday night. The council considered adopting such an ordinance in 2012, but did not at that time. Since then, Atascadero Police Chief Jerel Haley said, the city has received more complaints about people going their recycle bins on the street. The council asked for staff to bring back the proposed ordinance for reconsideration.

“At the time there were concerns and the recommendation was denied,” Mayor Tom O’Malley said.

Councilwoman Roberta Fonzi admitted to blocking the ordinance from being passed the last time it went before the council, but since that time she’s become aware of the high risk of identity theft from the recycle bins and requested that the ordinance be returned to the council for reconsideration.

Haley said there three primary areas of concern related to scavenging:

  • Scavenging tends to attract non-residents to neighborhoods where the non-residents thereafter loiter nearby or on private property, resulting in an increase in calls for law enforcement service.
  • Scavenging concerns have been heightened in recent years due to an increase in identity theft crimes. Individuals who engage in scavenging can collect personal information about the owners of the solid waste, and can thereafter use such information to execute identity theft crimes.
  • Scavenging leads to increased amounts of trash and debris left behind by persons engaged in scavenging, particularly in local parks and public facilities.


“Currently, it is against the law to go through recyclables,”  Haley said, but said that in order for anything to happen, the victim — who is the recycler — has to go to the site and file a complaint. Haley said the recycler has not been willing to do that. Because of the contract, once a recycle bin is put out at the street for pick up, everything inside that bin is now the property of the recycler. “It’s a difficult situation at best.”

Haley said the purpose of the ordinance is to discourage unwanted activity, not for increased enforcement. He said he believes once the ordinance goes into effect, calls will decrease. He said there will be a grace period once it goes into effect and people will be given warnings before being issued an infraction. It will not be classified as a misdemeanor.

“It will primarily increase a sense of security of our residents,” Haley said.

Citizen Michael Conger said that he sees the ordinance as another attempt to criminalize poverty.

“I do feel this targets the poor,” Conger said.

Atascadero resident Chuck Ward said that he supports the ordinance and that if the council does not pass the ordinance, they are endorsing and supporting people who dive into other people’s trash.

“We’re not doing this flippantly or to criminalize behavior,” Haley said.



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