In a letter to the editor of the Palo Alto Weekly, an angry Smith wrote: "Is there not an ordinance in Palo Alto against leaving unsightly debris curbside with a 'free' sign? Are these neighbors that lazy that they cannot just take a few minutes to take the items to the nearby Salvation Army or Goodwill?"
Perhaps those neighbors are not aware that the city of Palo Alto, through its contract with the Palo Alto Sanitation Company (PASCO), offers free curbside pickup once a year for unwanted items.
It is actually against the law to dump stuff in Palo Alto and nearby towns.
"The code doesn't allow you to dump trash on your front yard or on the sidewalk or the street. As far as leaving useable furniture out there, it's a bit of a gray area," according to Jon Abendschein, Palo Alto's supervisor of code enforcement.
Usually when the city is made aware of a code infringement, the people are simply asked to take the junk off the curb.
"Almost without exception, people have been very easy to work with. I'm not aware of a time when we had to issue a citation," he said.
But it's easy to get rid of unwanted belongings, without resorting to leaving it out on the curb with a "free" sign.
Once-a-year curbside pickup is available on the regular trash collection day; the only requirement is that one calls a week ahead (650-493-4894). More than 100 pickups are typically scheduled each month, noted Monica Devincenzi, PASCO's municipal relations manager. It varies somewhat seasonably, with more cleanups in spring and summer, she said.
The Clean-Up Day service is offered to any single-family home in Palo Alto but not to mobile homes or complexes of townhouses, condominiums or apartments greater than four units. Loose items need to be placed in disposable containers (which will not be returned) and weigh no more than 60 pounds. Up to four bulky items (up to 200 pounds each) can be included, but you need to give PASCO a heads-up.
Bulky items can include furniture, mattresses or appliances — but they need to be placed separately from other pickup materials. For complete instructions on what's acceptable and what may trigger a fee, visit www.cityofpaloalto.org/public-works/rec-cleanupday.html.
Pickups could include "pingpong tables and water heaters, if they meet dimension rules," Devincenzi said. But residents should be aware PASCO will not pick up hazardous materials, paint, old TVs, e-waste, tires, construction materials such as concrete or drywall, CRTs or auto parts.
If once a year isn't enough, PASCO can schedule a second pickup, at $70.48, depending on what exactly is being picked up (an appliance would add another $25, a sofa or mattress, $15).
Menlo Park offers a similar program but with two free pick-up days each year. Residents simply call Allied Waste at 650-592-2411 (or visit www.alliedwastesanmateocounty.com and look under "services") and ask for an extra pickup.
"We had one day per year originally because we were trying to reduce the amount of waste going to landfills," said Dianne Dryer, Menlo Park's environmental programs coordinator. But that was upped to two days per year a couple of years ago.
Dryer strongly encourages residents to "donate to charities, to have a garage sale, to use services like Freecycle (an online service, freecycle.org)," before asking for the pickup.
She also suggests going to www.recycleworks.org, which she calls "the penultimate Web site for recycling" where there's a list of what Allied won't pick up, including computers, electronics and hazardous waste.
"The only reason to use excess pick-up is if you have things that cannot be used by anyone, if there's no further way to use the object. The last resort is to haul it off to the landfill," she said, adding that "if you put out old furniture or funky old toys, that'll go to the landfill."
As for the law, "If you want to put a tricycle out and say it's free, there's no law that says you can't. If someone puts a bunch of junk out there for a week and no one picks it up, it becomes a code-enforcement issue," Dryer said.
With the exception of mid-December through mid-January, when Foothill Disposal is concentrating on holiday tree collection, Mountain View residents are eligible for On Call Plus Clean Up days. For apartments, condos, townhouses and mobile homes, the managers may call to arrange a complex-wide collection.
To schedule a free pickup, call Foothill Disposal at 650-967-3034. Visit the Web site at www.foothilldisposal.com for specific size and weight requirements. For a fee, residents may leave out refrigerators, computer monitors, TVs and tires.
In Mountain View, appointments can be swapped for a voucher to self-haul items (such as computer monitors and TVs) to the SMaRT Station at 301 Carl Road, Sunnyvale.
To report illegal dumping, call code enforcement at 650-526-7713.
"There is really no excuse for leaving items on the curb like this. Recently a neighbor left a paper shredder curbside, and it stayed there for three weeks! It is very annoying to see this happening in our neighborhood," Smith concluded.
City of Palo Alto - Recycling Program
City of Palo Alto - Hazardous Waste Management Program
Web site: www.cityofpaloalto.org/hazwaste
City of Palo Alto - Landfill & Composting Facility
2380 Embarcadero Road, Palo Alto, CA 94303
Web site: www.cityofpaloalto.org/recycle
Palo Alto Sanitation Company (PASCO)
2000 Geng Road, Palo Alto, CA 94303
Allied Waste of San Mateo County
225 Shoreway Road, P.O. Box 1068, San Carlos, CA 94070
Web site: www.alliedwastesanmateocounty.com
Foothill Disposal Co., Inc.
650 Martin Ave., Santa Clara, CA 95050
Web site: www.foothilldisposal.com