Image of City Manager Joe Lopez

City Manager's Blog

Oct 11

Organic Recycling and Modesto's Green Can

Posted on October 11, 2018 at 11:49 AM by Thomas Reeves

Since 1997 Modesto residents have used both a black and green can as part of their standard garbage service.  They’re the same size, picked up the same day of the week (sometimes even by the same truck), and taken to the same transfer stations in south Modesto to be processed.

But these two cans are radically different in what they contain, how they are treated, and their impact on the City. 

The Organic Recycling Container
The Organic Recycling Container (commonly known as your “green” or “yard waste” can) is where you can dispose of all organic or compostable material.  Yard waste – grass clippings, leaves, weeds, brush trimmings, and any other small yard waste – is the most commonly disposed-of item.  In the City of Modesto, residents are not permitted to pile up this green waste in front of their house for street-side pickup (except during December when city crews pick up only leaves for the winter leaf drop).  All of that kind of organic debris must go in the Organic Recycling Container.

You may be surprised to learn there are other kinds of waste that can go in the Organic Recycling Container. Any food, including meat, bones, dairy, spoiled leftovers, kitchen scraps and trimmings, can also go into the green bin.  

The City makes it even easier; thanks to our partnership with Gilton and Bertolotti, residents can have a free kitchen bin to hold food scraps until they’re ready to empty them into the green can.

Paper products – cardboard, paper towels, mail, newspapers, and magazines – are also acceptable items for the green bins.  These items are especially useful when the contents of the Organic Recycling Container are being composted; they absorb some liquid to make the product more evenly moist, and they provide extra carbon to balance with nitrogen acquired from grass, fruits, vegetables, and other food waste. 

After the pickup
Your Organic Recycling Container is picked-up once a week on your garbage day.  Depending on the garbage company (Modesto partners with two), the material is transported to the company’s transfer stations where it is ground and reloaded into larger trucks for further transport.  The ground organic material is then taken to the compost facility, and since the facility is owned and operated by the city, the garbage companies pay less per ton than they would at a traditional disposal site. 

The compost facility further grinds and filters the incoming waste from green cans and other pickup and maintenance work, reducing it to a size that will encourage faster microbial breakdown of the organic material.  The material is distributed into long windrows covering nearly 20 acres, churning, watering, and monitoring the process over the course of roughly 16 weeks.  Material in the windrows can reach over 150-180 degrees, which ensures that spores and seeds are killed in the process.  

When the compost is ready, it is a dark, organically-rich mixture with appropriate nitrogen and carbon levels to be used as a certified organic humus-like soil.  Monthly testing of pathogens and metals is completed, and a state inspector is onsite monthly to ensure the process follows state laws and water and air board regulations.

Why Organic Recycling?
The Organic Recycling Container was an early innovation, implemented before mandatory organic recycling, which today looms in California’s policy.  While other cities and regions are struggling to conceive of and implement organic and commercial recycling programs, the City of Modesto is perfecting our twenty-year-old program.  Even cities ahead of the curve on recycling transport their organic waste out of the county to privately-owned compost and organic processing facilities.  Modesto owns and operates its own.

New residents to Modesto frequently ask, “Why no blue bin?” The products that you typically think of when you consider recycling, like plastic, cans, and glass, actually make up about 25% of most residential trash.  According to studies conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency over 30 years, the majority of municipal solid waste is made of organic material.  

In a program like the City of Modesto’s, where all food scraps, paper, and yard waste can be composted, about 60% of the residential waste stream can be diverted away from landfills.  Additionally, recycling centers around the city will refund residents for glass, metal, and plastic, meaning that much of it doesn’t end up in garbage containers anyway.

How is the compost used?
The City of Modesto’s Compost Facility produces 30,000 tons of compost every year, which is sold to residents and businesses in the community.  The current price for one cubic yard is $18.00, and the site is open to the public Monday through Friday, 8:00 AM- 3:30 PM; our team will even load your truck beds. 

The City of Modesto also uses compost in its own projects.  It’s used when planting new city trees or filling holes throughout our park and street systems.  The same organic waste you throw away could be used to facilitate growth in new trees planted along the roads in your community.  And when those same trees are trimmed by City, the waste is again sent to the compost facility to produce more compost. 

Here’s the challenge
The City has not been able to use much of its own compost for planting projects in parks due to contamination; in short, there’s stuff in your green cans that shouldn’t be there and cannot be composted.  Despite the constant monitoring of incoming waste, and sorting and filtering during production, trace contaminants – especially glass and plastics – do make it into the final product which greatly limits its application. 

If a resident dumps trash into the green can, the garbage truck driver may not see the contamination until he has already dumped it into the truck.  If the contaminants make it in with a truckload of green waste, that entire load cannot be treated as organic waste; it must instead go to the landfill. 

If contamination is not caught, the trash may be ground in with green waste and delivered to the compost facility, and I am willing to bet you don’t want bits of glass ground up with the compost material used in your yard or in our parks.  
Residents are responsible for keeping contamination out of the Organic Recycling Container.  Placed on every can is a green and white sticker that gives you more information about what can and cannot go into the green can.  If you are ever unsure, please call our Solid Waste division at (209) 577-5494 and the team can answer questions about acceptable items. 

How is the City of Modesto addressing this challenge?
Starting in November 2018, our Solid Waste division will be increasing random inspections of cans on collection days.  Any contamination or misuse of the containers will result in an immediate citation.  The citation schedule is as follows:
1st Offense $100 fine
2nd Offense $250 fine, removal of Organic Recycling Can and residents must schedule a meeting with the Code Enforcement Officer to have it returned
3rd Offense $500 fine and permanent removal of Organic Recycling Container

These fines are a direct result of the cost of additional enforcement and of the transportation of waste to the landfills.

The city will also be stepping up its enforcement with the garbage companies; less leeway will be permitted with contaminated loads.  We will be requiring truck drivers to notify the city daily of contaminated cans inspected on their routes. 

In addition to this increased enforcement, we’re researching new methods of sorting and grinding incoming loads in order to allow for more effective contamination removal.  

Ultimately, having a successful program relies on the homeowners, who should use the black and green cans to the fullest extent while keeping contaminants out; on the garbage companies, who are charged with being vigilant and cautious about how they process their incoming loads; and on the City of Modesto, which must enforce the code and use the best tools available to produce a clean product for our residents. 

Thank you for your help in keeping Modesto clean.
Sep 21

Temporary Homeless Camping at Beard Brook Park

Posted on September 21, 2018 at 4:36 PM by Thomas Reeves

Make no mistake, the issue of homelessness in the City of Modesto is a crisis.  Travel past any number of our city parks recently and you would have seen homeless encampments popping up all over.  This is simply unacceptable.

Recently, the 9th Circuit Court ruled that a city cannot criminalize a homeless person for unlawful camping if there are no available beds in shelters.  Homeless individuals and homeless advocates took this as an opportunity to more blatantly set up camp in some of our most populate and visible public spaces.  At this point, it has become increasingly challenging for our law enforcement personnel to enforce our current laws regarding camping in our parks.

As we weigh the implications of this decision, and review our current policies and ordinances, a temporary solution – some would call it a Band-Aid – is required.  

The city’s leadership team has decided to allow for homeless camping at Beard Brook Park.  Beard Brook Park is a reasonable location for homeless camping for several reasons.  Essentially, it is not yet widely used by the public, and as a matter of fact, the park is not located adjacent to schools or residential neighborhoods.  By asking homeless individuals to vacate the other parks in our city, and moving them to this one location, our public safety personnel will have a clear line of sight to those who need these services most.  

It is absolutely my intention - and the goal of our team - to open Beard Brook and its new dog park, and to celebrate the larger Tuolumne River Regional Park program, very soon.  We anticipate this park and the Tuolumne River will be a huge draw for dog owners and recreationalists alike.

This situation is evolving by the hour, and soon our team will have a plan to address the immediate needs of this make-shift homeless camp at Beard Brook Park.  I am committed to ensuring the safety of those in and around this park by ensuring law enforcement is present, and basic human needs are met, including washing stations and restroom facilities. In addition, our partners with the Outreach & Engagement Team will be out there daily creating opportunities for these individuals to obtain various services.

I want to make clear, the city will not back down from tackling the homelessness crisis head-on because we firmly believe the safety and health of our communities, and everyone who calls Modesto home, is at risk.  

At the same time, however, we are not neglecting the larger issue at-hand: we need more beds for those in need.  We need a brick-and-mortar building, an emergency low-barrier shelter for those who need a bed and access to services.  

We continue to collaborate with the county and our community partners on the next phase of addressing this crisis, and we will offer sites that could work as a shelter.  Certainly there is a more permanent need for shelter beds in Modesto and throughout the state, but we will tackle this by taking one step at a time.

As we work together to address this serious issue in Modesto, I will continue to entertain any and all innovative concepts for meeting the needs of each member – regardless of where they lay their head at night – in our community.
Sep 07

Pulse Check on Modesto Crime

Posted on September 7, 2018 at 9:02 AM by Thomas Reeves

This week's post is provided by guest blogger, Police Chief Galen Carroll

Modesto has a reputation of being a rough city when it comes to crime in spite of our great neighborhoods and neighborhood groups. There’s no doubt we face a lot of challenges in public safety. 

It is a fact that Modesto has a higher crime rate per 1,000 people than the average crime rate for in California.  We have often been ranked in the top five for both violent crime and property crime per capita for the state.

The goal of the Modesto Police Department – really, your entire group of city leaders – is to “Make Modesto Better.”  

Year after year, crime reporting statistics show fluctuating increases and decreases, and they’re never really an accurate measurement of the police department’s performance or the strategies we have been employing to combat the crime in our city. 

In 2012, the police department compiled a 10-year report on crime in our city in comparison to the rest of the state. We found our violent crime and property crime were consistently higher than the state average. Since that time we have implemented new area commands for greater accountability, implemented intelligence-led policing strategies to focus on the offenders committing the most crime, invested in a robust Predictive Policing program, implemented greater reporting and crime trend analyses, and built a real-time crime center. These strategies have had the most impact on our property crime rates. 

This year, for the first time in over a decade, Modesto was not ranked #1 in auto theft per capita in the nation – or even in the top 5 cities.  

Below is a comparison of the property crime reduction in Modesto as compared to the State of California; it shows the percent difference from 2012 to 2017:

   Burglary Auto Theft Larceny TOTAL
MODESTO -46% -22% -16% -28%
CALIFORNIA -28% -0.1% 1.1% -4%

Modesto is on the right track, though we definitely have a lot more work to do in order to meet the state average for crime.  

While there is reason to celebrate the reduction in property crime in our city, I continue to focus on the violent crime problem.  Below is a comparison of violent crimes in Modesto as compared to the State of California; it shows the percent difference from 2012 to 2017:

   Homicide Rape Robbery
 0% 86% 15% 43% 30%
 CALIFORNIA -2.6% 88% 2% 11.6% 11.2%

I attribute the large increase in rapes, both for the state and city, to the change in reporting criterion by the department of justice. 

The increase in robberies and aggravated assault is highly alarming to me as your police chief. In the last several years, the State of California has implemented multiple changes to the criminal justice system.  Each of these changes has resulted in the release of more offenders onto the streets of Modesto and California. Many of those offenders had violent criminal histories; however their incarceration charges were not considered “violent” by the State, and therefore they were released without regard for their past offenses.  This has had an impact on our crime rates. 

Equally concerning here in Modesto is the level of violence in the home.  Our rate of domestic violence has increased 44% in the last five years from 877 cases in 2013 to 1,320 last year. Domestic Violence is never acceptable, and the Police Department is actively working with the District Attorney’s office and the courts to help address those volatile relationships. Individuals experiencing Domestic Violence should reach out for help from counselors, churches, friends, and family to break that cycle of violence. 

There is help for those who need it.  Members of the community who are in an abusive relationship can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Local resources are also available with the Family Justice Center at (209) 525-5130 and at 1418 J St. in Modesto. 

There are many factors that come into play when considering how crime affects the quality of life in our city. Residents are encouraged to continue to get to know your neighbors.  We continue to be rated among the top cities in participation for National Night out for the past five years. 

The tighter we are as a community, the more we can look out for each other and help prevent many of the property crimes. In working toward preventing crime, we can all do our part in making sure to secure our homes and vehicles, not leaving valuables in plain sight, utilizing anti-theft devices on older model cars, and never leaving cars running unattended.  Remember to be cognizant of your surroundings and pay attention to the world around you, not just the cellphone in front of you.  Look for things that seem out of place and trust your instincts.

I, like you, desire a community where we feel safe to go for a walk at night, go shopping, and enjoy our neighborhoods.  Together we can make Modesto better for all of us, and for our children and grandchildren.

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns about my department, please call me at (209) 572-9501.

Galen Carroll