Not So Fast

THE OAKLAND, CALIF., City Council has approved a law requiring fast food restaurants, convenience stores and other sources of litter to pay an annual fee to help offset the cost of cleaning up the mess created by their products. However, the city is holding off on implementing the law, as some area businesses have indicated they will file a lawsuit if the ordinance is enacted.

Oakland is one of the first major metropolitan areas to attempt to enact such a law. Courts overturned a similar law passed in Chicago in 1999.

To avoid potential lawsuits, the council is still examining how it will put the law into effect. North Oakland Council Member Jane Brunner, who proposed the law, says officials currently favor a three-pronged approach that, in addition to the cleanup fee, would add a student education campaign and targeted “litter stings” by the police.

In addition, the city council is looking at ways by which businesses could receive exemptions for exemplary cleanup efforts in targeted areas.

Businesses opposing the annual fee have said they will have to pass the costs along to their customers, according to published reports.

According to Brunner, 77 percent of the Oakland businesses affected make less than half a million dollars a year. Defined as small businesses, those restaurants and stores would pay $231 a year — roughly 63 cents a day — to cover their share of the cleanup. Larger franchises — those making more than $1 million a year — would be asked to pay $2,400 annually, or $6.50 a day.

The city is hoping to raise $237,000 annually through the fees to hire cleanup crews.

Brunner says that she has worked with local fast-food outlets and stores for eight years to try to avoid such a measure. “What we generally find is that they're very, very good about cleaning up the property right in front of their business,” she says.

“Usually someone from their headquarters comes down and agrees to clean up for a couple blocks,” Brunner adds. “That lasts for about two months. And then it stops.”

When she first proposed the law last June, Brunner says, the California Grocers Association and the Metropolitan Oakland Chamber of Commerce asked for a delay in deliberations so that they could implement a volunteer-based cleanup program in lieu of the mandatory fee. The two organizations aimed to get 100 businesses to commit to the program, Brunner says, adding 20 businesses would have been sufficient for her to pull the measure. However, the organizations did not get a single volunteer, Brunner claims.

Students — often the most prolific litterbugs, according to Brunner — may be asked to help participate in the cleanup as a way of discouraging the practice.