Resident tries to put a lid on illegal dumping

Photo courtesy of Launa Stach

Fed up with the continual illegal trash dumps on her street, unincorporated county resident Launa Stach has launched a public Facebook album to publicly shame alleged offenders and chronicle the ongoing problem near her home on Camino Diablo, between Walnut Boulevard and Vasco Road.

Visitors who use a certain unincorporated-Brentwood street as their personal garbage dump might want to think twice about their illegal activity — their actions could now end up broadcasted across social media.

Unincorporated-Brentwood resident Launa Stach, with help from neighbors and friends, is confronting illegal dumpers near her home on Camino Diablo — between Walnut Boulevard and Vasco Road — and putting the video footage in a public Facebook album.

“I am working off of guilt, because people know they are doing something they shouldn’t be doing,” said Stach. “When they see me recording and taking pictures, they freak out.”

Stach, a 15-year owner of her property and former Fremont Police reserve sergeant, launched her multifaceted street-pride campaign in March after returning home from a ski trip to find piles of illegally dumped garbage blowing down her street.

The trash, that appeared to have broken free from discarded bags, added to Stach’s growing anger over her street’s ever-increasing illegal-dumping problem that has grown from intermittent to daily.

She organized a slew of her neighbors to help clean up the mess, installed cameras on her property and she hasn’t stopped trying to dispose of the problem since.

Keeping an eye out for suspects is easy for her: she’s self-employed and, thus, frequently at home; her house is positioned to allow her to see a mile up the street and a quarter-mile down the other direction; she leases both sides of her street for grazing the livestock she checks on regularly; and her friends and neighbors are quick to act or alert her to suspicious activity.

When probable dumpers arrive, so does Stach, asking if they need help while capturing suspect images and glimpses of their license plates.

The footage — so far including about 35 pictures and videos of ditched trash, alleged perpetrators, their vehicles and license plates — is now featured on her public Facebook page and an accompanying album.

“Usually, as long as people have a guilty conscience, they are like, ‘Oh crap, I have to go!’” she said, noting that she’s not afraid of the possible confrontations and repercussions that might ensue.

Her campaign extends beyond public shaming, too. When Stach is not trying to curtail the activity, she routinely cleans up after it, using litter to create garbage mountains that are meant to be easily picked up by the county cleanup crews she alerts.

Contra Costa County Sheriff Lieutenant Matt Foley confirmed this week that the confrontation tactic is dangerous and not recommended, but that she can legally post the photos online as long as the subjects of the images were in public when the photos were taken.

“If she is collecting the garbage and calling public works, that is great,” Foley said. “I would not take people on, and make it known you are taking them on and give them any idea where you live.”

District 3 Supervisor Diane Burgis, who serves Stach’s area, expressed similar sentiments.

“I appreciate Ms. Stach’s frustration that people are doing this in her community. Installing video surveillance cameras and giving that footage to law enforcement, as she’s doing, is helpful,” Burgis said. “However, posting images to social media can lead to retaliation, and I’d encourage everyone to report incidents to law enforcement instead of trying to confront people in person or online.”

Stach contends she’s not afraid, and it appears her trash battle is just heating up.

Aside from daily litterbugs, she claims county cleanup crews don’t always pick up the full garbage mounds she stacks up, and she is also irked over at least one alleged, egregious littering case against a supposed local hauling and cleanup service that county law enforcement hasn’t acted on, despite the piled-up evidence she’s collected, she said.

“You are calling the police and you are giving them everything they need to actually issue a citation and hold these people accountable, and they don’t do anything with it,” Stach said. “I am taking hours and hours and days to clean up the street and call the county, and they can’t even pick up the garbage.”

Burgis said county cleanup crews might leave items behind that require specialized hazardous material crews to respond.

The illegal dumping case popped up after Stach tracked down the owner of garbage dumped on her street, only to find out — through what she claims are corroborating images — that the owner had hired an established local hauling company to properly dump the trash.

Foley said a deputy visited Stach to look into her complaint and viewed her pictures, including one of a trailer capable of dumping materials, but the supposed evidence isn’t strong enough to proceed in the investigation.

Foley added that the deputy has also attempted to contact a phone number on the side of the trailer in at least one of the images but has not received a return call.

“Whether or not they were dumping, she thinks they either did or were capable of doing it, but it’s not enough to follow up on,” Foley said.

As Stach’s daily war marches ahead, county officials are renewing their own efforts to tackle the countywide problem.

The board of supervisors recently approved 56 recommendations, including approximately 25 new ideas aimed at curbing the activity.

Key maneuvers that target education, prevention, cleanup and enforcement include: dedicating deputies to investigate dumping crimes; installing surveillance cameras in key areas; erecting street signs detailing how to report lawbreakers; advocating for a statewide law requiring all waste hauling services to be regulated by permit; streamlining regulation of rules (with minimal exceptions) requiring residential and business properties to subscribe to garbage service; and implementing public-outreach campaigns.

An implementation plan is expected to be presented to the full board of supervisors in late September, Burgis said.

There were around 4,500 reported illegal dumping cleanups on public roadways maintained by the county in 2017 — an increase of about 1,000 since 2012, according to the county’s latest available data.

Portions of East County alone saw between 90 and 199 reports of illegal dumping in 2017, the second-highest number in all of the unincorporated county areas after a small stretch of property near San Pablo that drew between 200 and 297 reports, the county’s latest data shows.

As the county tries to calm the problem, Stach shows no signs of stopping her own efforts, still hoping dumpers get the message they need to can their activities.

“Ultimately, I just want the behavior to stop,” she said.

 To view Stach’s album, visit bit.ly/Streetpride.

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