Arnold Rothlin Sr. could not believe his eyes. As he was driving past the once posh two-story house in the south Manteca countryside, that has deteriorated into a charred black citadel in the middle of overgrown weeds, he spied a boat parked in front of the property on the side of the road.
“It looked like a half-way decent boat,” said the retired dairyman who does not like to pass up a good opportunity to save something that could still be useful.
“I pulled up and, oh, man, what a mess! It pulled over to look at the boat but it was full of garbage,” he said.
But he found even more surprises the next day when he passed by the same area. A second boat filled with garbage had now joined the first one.
“It’s an ongoing problem,” Michael Selling of the San Joaquin County Public Works Department said of the seemingly endless practice of anonymous people who treat the agricultural properties in the countryside around Manteca, Ripon and Lathrop as their private dumping ground.
Steve Mckee, the first mayor of Lathrop who farmed the family property at the Mossdale Landing area in west Lathrop for decades before the fields became rooftops, confronted the same problem everyday of the year. One time, some people brought a truck-load of tires to dump in his fields only to be stranded by the irrigation waters when their vehicle was caught in all the muck.
Most recently, a longtime resident in the agricultural area along Sedan Avenue between South Austin Road and Union Road, complained not only about the constant dumping of mountains of garbage in and around the almond orchards but of the rising number of cats and dogs that are being dumped there as well. The resident, who did not want to be identified, said that since they live in an unincorporated county area, they could not take the animals to the City of Manteca animal shelter and have to go to the facility in Stockton. But the problem is just getting out of hand, said the frustrated resident.
So, who is responsible for cleaning up the mess that is left on the side of the roads by unscrupulous individuals?
“I can’t answer that definitively, but my understanding is, if it (garbage) is in the county right-of-way, we keep things maintained,” Selling said.
However, the county does not have manpower that is strictly assigned to do that work. That is usually done by the county-maintenance crew – “the guys who fix the potholes, re-stripe the roads, keep things maintained,” Snelling said.
If they are out doing their regular job and they come upon a garbage pile, they “pick up any roadside trash that they see and either haul it straight to the landfill or bring it here to put in the dumpster,” he said.
“It’s not their primary duty but it’s something that we try to have them do” as the situation allows, Selling explained.
How they determine if the trash is the responsibility of the county or the private property owner depends on the definition of what is the county right-of-way. County right-of-way is defined as roads that are county maintained. That’s the area that’s measured from the center of road which varies from 20 to 30 feet, and “might include the shoulder area” of the road, Selling said.
He added, “where you see the utility poles, those generally inside the county right-of-way rather than on private property is probably the best visual cue I can give you.”
As to the cost involved in cleaning the trash, Selling said he did not have “a real handle on that” but that “it’s significant.
“I know we’ve started to reach out to other counties and other cities to see what they’re doing. We’re looking for creative solutions,” Selling said.