CASTRO VALLEY -- Donation drop boxes that began showing up around town last summer have become magnets for trash and graffiti, residents say.

"They're basically big garbage cans," said Marc Crawford, head of the Castro Valley Municipal Advisory Council, one of the groups that pushed for regulation of the boxes.

A proposed Alameda County ordinance regulating donation boxes in unincorporated areas, which also include San Lorenzo and Fairview, will be reviewed by the county Planning Commission on Monday.

"They cropped up this past summer, coming out of nowhere. Before we knew it, we had over 30 boxes on Castro Valley Boulevard, Lake Chabot Road and Redwood Road," Crawford said. "That's how quickly it started and became an abuse."

Some donation box operators welcome the rules, saying that unscrupulous vendors have tarnished the reputation of legitimate ones.

"The Wild West days of this industry need to be reined in," said Julie Wedge, public relations director for Campus California, a nonprofit group operating out of Richmond. "We have the same concerns as the community. We're happy Alameda County is putting something together to make a distinction between the good and bad operators."

The proposed rules include keeping the boxes free of graffiti and litter. They must be at least 400 feet apart and not block pedestrian or traffic flow. Operators would need to pay a $500 deposit and get a county permit for each box.


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If the Planning Commission approves the ordinance, it will go before county supervisors for final approval.

The new rules would prevent boxes from being installed without the property owners' permission, which has happened, Crawford said.

"There was house on Castro Valley Boulevard that was in foreclosure. There were boxes in the yard for a long period of time before they were taken out," he said.

The number of boxes has declined since summer, he said, probably because people have complained. The county doesn't have a firm count on how many there are because the numbers keep changing, said Sonia Urzua, Alameda County senior planner.

Crawford said the boxes are not policed well. "The trash ends up sitting there until someone calls the county, which then goes through its process to have it cleaned up," he said. "Meanwhile, the community is dealing with blight for days or weeks. And the boxes are a constant graffiti target."

Wedge said that her company empties its bins at least weekly, and some daily, depending on level of donations.

"We work hard to maintain our boxes, but we can't say that all of them are sparkly clean all the time. But as soon as we hear about graffiti or a box overflowing, we have a 24-hour turnaround to clean it up," she said, adding that her organization's bins have a clearly marked telephone number to call if there are problems.

She maintained that her group and other legitimate ones provide a service by having an easy way for residents to dispose of unwanted clothing instead of throwing it into the trash.

"We take waste reduction seriously. We diverted 8 million tons from landfills in 2012."

Contact Rebecca Parr at 510-293-2473, follow her at Twitter.com/rdparr1 or read her HayWord blog at ibabuzz.com/hayword.

Alameda County Planning Commission
Commission will consider an ordinance regulating unattended donation boxes.
When: 6 p.m. Monday
Where: 224 W. Winton Ave., Room 160, Hayward