City council votes to regulate clothing donation boxes, recognizes Hispanic Heritage Month

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The Oakland City Council debated the details of a new ordinance regulating clothing donation boxes across the city, honored several retiring city employees and recognized Hispanic Heritage Month at Tuesday evening’s concurrent meeting of the council and the city’s Redevelopment Successor Agency.

The council heard public comments both for and against the regulation of what are technically called “Unattended Donation/Collection Boxes,” or UDCBs, drop-off receptacles for collecting donated goods from the public. The policy recommendations were presented in a report by the city administrator seeking to regulate the boxes to prevent blight, a term the report used to refer to vandalism, dumping and neglect. The recommendations included limiting the boxes to designated commercial areas, charging annual permit renewal fees and prohibiting permits for owners with outstanding citations for noncompliance with city regulations.

“We want to see strong enforcement on the UDCB bins,” said Valerie Winemiller of the Piedmont Neighborhood Improvement League, who said she is concerned that people double-parking near the boxes to drop off items will increase traffic congestion.

Oakland resident Ken Katz also called for regulation of the boxes, saying they have a negative effect on non-profits in the area who rely on public donations to remain operational. Some of the bins are operated by for-profit companies, like USAgain, which collect the donations and resell them. Currently, no regulations exist to ensure that the donations placed in boxes run by for-profit companies end up benefitting Oakland communities. Katz and other critics of the bins said the city should prioritize donations that go directly to “brick and mortar” non-profits.

A representative from Recycle For Change, a non-profit that operates bins across the Bay Area, told the city council that restricting the boxes not only prevents the organization from serving communities in need, but would also infringe on the group’s First Amendment rights. In a press release in 2014, the organization cited a district court judge in Michigan who ruled that soliciting charitable donations through similar boxes is a protected form of speech.

A previous version of the proposal was presented to the city council in February, but the council rejected it and asked for a revision. The new version increases annual renewal fees for box permits to $245.72, requires boxes to be on the same lot as an occupied principal building and reduces the time in which owners must provide evidence of compliance after being notified of a complaint.

Councilmember Abel Guillen (District 2) expressed concern about the proposal’s requirement for owners to monitor their bins at least three times per week. “How do we enforce these rules?” Guillen asked the council.

After negotiating to reduce the monitoring requirement to twice weekly, the council unanimously voted to move forward with the ordinance.

In a move that brought cheers of support from members of the public, Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker presented resolutions to honor Yvonne Hudson-Harmon and Randolph W. Hall for 10 and 29 years of service to the City of Oakland, respectively.

“I live in the city of Oakland and it has been very important to me to do something that gives back to the community I live in,” said Hudson-Harmon, who served as the legal administrative services manager in the office of the Oakland City Attorney.

“You were always somebody I could rely on for your legal advice,” Councilmember Desley Brooks (District 6) told Hall, who served as chief assistant attorney in the city attorney’s litigation division.

“I absolutely loved this job. I loved coming into work,” said Hall, who offered to continue to volunteer as an advisor for the city. “I am profoundly grateful for the city of Oakland.”

Councilmember Noel Gallo (District 5) sponsored a resolution to recognize National Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 through October 15. After inviting a dozen guests from Oakland’s Latino community to join him at the dais, Gallo shared memories of his own childhood in Oakland. “In elementary school, I had to check a box labeled ‘Mexican-American,’” Gallo said. Throughout his life, he said, the label ascribed to his ethnicity changed—from “Chicano” to “Hispanic” to “Latino”—but his identity did not. “We’re Americans,” he said. “I’ve never saluted any other flag.”

In other council business, the council adopted a resolution to honor the 100th anniversary of Fouche’s Hudson Funeral Home in North Oakland and Oakland resident Dwayne Butler pleaded with the council during the public comment period to establish “love life” as the city’s motto, which he has also requested at the previous three council meetings.

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