Longtime family farmer Tom Pavich is faced with cleaning up yet another illegal dumpsite on his farm east of Bakersfield where, instead of hauling trash and junk to the Bena landfill, someone decided to use Pavich’s land as their own personal dump site.
It’s an ongoing problem, he said, not just for him but for growers throughout the valley and rural areas across the county.
“Every appliance in your house, I’ve seen it,” he said. “I get a couple of cars a year, torched.”
Earlier this week, Pavich, 66, gave a Californian reporter and a photographer a tour of the country roads that lead to Pavich Family Farms, an organic grape-growing operation east of Bakersfield that specializes in raisin production.
Many of those country roads were lined with piles of trash, worn-out household goods and sometimes even industrial waste.
Pavich said he’s seen every kind of domesticated animal — living and dead — dumped on those country roads or on his farm, including sealed bags containing what he says are “gross” animal parts left over from the butchering process.
The amount and type of refuse is stunning. One site included a dead cow that looked like it had been there for months. Tires, broken-down furniture, electronics, used motor oil, old clothing and more.
Adjacent to his vineyards, he and his crew filled several wooden bins with a trailerload of trash left on his farm. Before he could haul it to the dump — on his dime — another trash drop appeared overnight.
“If this were Seven Oaks and somebody’s front yard, something would be done,” he said. “Well, this is my front yard. Out here, no one seems to care. But I do.”
County officials say they do care, and they are taking action to respond to the problem.
“You have hit on a topic that seems to be a symptom of what is defining our world today,” Kern County Public Works Director Craig Pope told The Californian in an email.
“Tom Pavich’s problem is not his alone. We see it everywhere. It is easily 10 times worse than it was five years ago,” Pope said.
“We don’t know what has changed to make it the way it is but it is demanding our resources and attention.”
Pope is correct. It’s hardly unique to Pavich Family Farms, or areas east of Bakersfield.
“We are near the McFarland-Delano Transfer Station,” McFarland almond grower Don Davis said Friday. “Every weekend, we get two or three truckloads on our little farm.”
“It used to be once or twice a month someone would leave a couch or TV,” he said.
But now the scale of the problem is much larger.
“Unfortunately, illegal dumping is a persistent problem for local area farmers and ranchers, both large and small,” said Romeo Agbalog, executive director of the Kern County Farm Bureau.
“Illegal dumping violates private property rights by means of trespass, creates hazards and safety concerns for farm employees, it adds to the cost of doing business, and brings blight to our community,” he said in an email.
“As local jurisdictions reduce enforcement, farmers are saddled with extra burdens and the cost of cleanup,” Agbalog said.
The Farm Bureau is eager, he said, to work with all stakeholders to eliminate illegal dumping and hold offenders accountable.
Kern County Chief Administrative Officer Ryan Alsop said the problem extends into all areas of the county.
“We are, in fact, bolstering efforts to address it,” Alsop said.
Within the past year, the Kern County Board of Supervisors has authorized a new $1,000 administrative fine for illegal dumping, along with a $250 administrative fine for all uncovered loads, Alsop said. These new fines are in addition to other civil penalties and fines already on the books.
Meanwhile, Public Works has increased land-use fees for county residents in an effort to fund the cleanup of bulky waste and litter.
However, this funding cannot be used for cleanup on private property, Pope said.
Nevertheless, the increased funding will allow the county to expand from a single cleanup crew to five illegal-dump crews that will be employed throughout the county.
“We are also working with newly funded code enforcement teams to remove homeless encampments,” Pope said. “Code officers will work with the occupants and once they are relocated our illegal dump crews will be there to clean up the encampment. These crews will also work hand in hand with community clean-up events.”
County officials also agree with Pavich that there must be a renewed effort to educate the public. As a result, they are increasing their presence in schools, Pope said, in an effort to “bring about a change in the culture of our community.”
“First we have to get the word out that the landfills are free for residential garbage,” he said. “It costs our residents nothing to bring it from their home to our landfills.
“We have seven landfills throughout the county. It is rare when a county has more than two,” Pope said.
So why are the trash-dumpers not using places like the Bena landfill?
“Hours of operation may be part of it,” he said, “and we are going to revisit closing at 4 p.m.
“Our issue, especially this time of year, is after the last load is dumped for the day. there are several hours of work that is required to be completed before the operator is finished for the day — pushing them into working in the dark.”
Pope said we have no choice. It’s essential, he said, to continue to clean up after the homeless and illegal dumpers.
“We have to find the money and resources to educate and continue to clean up.”
For farmer Tom Pavich, it’s an elemental choice between having the courage to confront and solve these problems and sitting back and watching our society unravel.
“It’s part of our culture now,” he said. “And we need to change it.”
Reporter Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.
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