MENDOCINO Co, CA, 3/3/2023 — In Tuesday’s meeting, Mendocino County supervisors voted unanimously in favor of a motion to pull trash and recycling cans supplied by the county for public use from the village of Mendocino. As an alternative, Mendocino County plans to redirect the money going toward upkeep of those cans into stipends for Mendocino businesses to put their own cans out on the sidewalk and bring them in at night to empty into their dumpsters.
The item was proposed by 5th District Supervisor Ted Williams, who included images of overflowing trash cans and raccoons easily climbing into the bins at night. He explained that he has often heard about these issues from Mendocino constituents, in no small part because the public trash and recycling cans are often used by tourists to discard household waste.
“Part of housing a visitor economy is you have to deal with the trash these visitors leave behind,” he said, adding, “No matter what frequency we have of pickup, when people are dumping household trash, there will be overflow.”
Williams explained that the Department of Transportation has worked with the waste vendor to increase trash pickup during the high-traffic summer months, but that hasn’t helped sufficiently. Supervisors voted unanimously in favor of trying out this “pilot program,” to explore one potential solution.
Now, County Counsel will move forward in drawing up a contract agreement for participating businesses, and Williams plans to assist staff in approaching larger Mendocino businesses to generate participation in the program.
“It sounds much more practical than what we have right now,” said Williams’ fellow coastal supervisor, Dan Gjerde.
Though it draws millions of visitors each year, because Mendocino is an unincorporated community, basic public health services that would be commonplace in other cities and towns are complicated for the seaside village. That’s frustrating for Teddy Winslow, the owner of GoodLife Cafe & Bakery on Lansing Street, who said the trash issue is “one more reason having an unincorporated village is not as ideal as it may have once been.”
“I think a lot of the taxes we generate provide services to other areas of the county and not necessarily to us in the unincorporated areas because there’s less infrastructure to handle that,” she wrote in a message to The Mendocino Voice.
As a resident, Winslow sees the problems with the existing cans. Like Williams pointed out, some have a “garbage” slot and a “recycling” slot, but it all leads to the same place. Further, birds can easily access the trash in the receptacles and scatter litter around town.
“I hate seeing the public garbage cans overflowing and being torn up by the birds,” Winslow wrote. “It’s so unsightly and bad for the environment as well.”
But Winslow’s not sure that stipends for businesses is a viable long-term solution — at least, not for her cafe, where some people already use their garbage bins as a place to dump household waste.
“We have folks dumping their household trash in our dumpsters regularly, and we try not to say anything,” she wrote. “Although wow, it’s gotten really expensive and they only pick up twice a week. We can’t accommodate a lot more garbage either.”
While she wonders if some larger businesses might be able to take care of trash from sidewalk cans, she doesn’t feel hers could and worried that “litter would be out of control.”
Williams said that at the supervisors’ meeting that he had yet to hear negative feedback, but anticipates some concern around the idea.
“I expect some will be upset about the removal of trash receptacles,” he said. “I have to weigh that with people complaining about the trash on the sidewalk.”
Winslow is curious to see how the program plays out, but also feels that it’s one element of a larger representational issue for Mendocino.
“Ted [Williams] is advocating well for a large area but no one is directly advocating for our village anywhere that I’m aware of except him,” she wrote. “He’s also got to make the Gualala and Point Arena people happy, and everyone else too! What a crazy job. But it’s obvious that we can’t quite handle how popular the village has gotten (with tourism and short-term rentals) without some help.”
The item will return to the board at a future meeting, with language written for the contract agreements with businesses.
Note: Kate Fishman covers the environment & natural resources for The Mendocino Voice in partnership with a Report For America. Her position is funded by the Community Foundation of Mendocino, Report for America, & our readers. You can support Fishman’s work with a tax-deductible donation here or by emailing [email protected]. Contact her at KFishman@mendovoice.com or at (707) 234-7735. The Voice maintains editorial control and independence.