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City has dirty problem, Lodi resident says

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Posted: Tuesday, August 13, 2002 10:00 pm

Jim Baum is driven.

He's been seen lurking in the neighborhood of Rivergate and Almond drives snapping pictures of garbage trucks.

"It's not just a Jim Baum problem, it's a city of Lodi problem," Baum said.

The longtime Lodi resident doesn't like garbage trucks that leak oil and garbage residue onto city streets.

Baum, who is now threatening to file a class-action civil lawsuit, said the leaked grime washes into the Mokelumne River and soils the streets taxpayers pay to maintain.

And then there's the smell.

The local businessman has been communicating with the city on the issue for more than a year.

"It's fallen on deaf ears," he said.

However, city officials and leaders with Central Valley Waste Services say new trucks are steadily being brought on line and stepped-up maintenance efforts are helping solve the problem.

The concerns came up late last spring when the service contract between Lodi and private contractor Central Valley Waste Services was up for renewal.

Baum, who owns Almondwood Mobile Estates and Shady Acres Mobile Home Park, approached the City Council in June 2001 with a letter detailing his complaints about the vehicles and pictures showing the soiling.

He also presented to council members with a chronological file detailing the problems. Each entry also includes the date, day, truck number and short description.

Although he exchanged communication with the garbage company and some changes were made, Baum was back before the City Council in October 2001. He again presented pictures documenting the spills.

He said he even contacted the state Fish and Game Department, the County Environmental Health Department and the state Toxic Hotline.

On Feb. 8, Rick Acuna, vice president of the garbage company's Northern California region, sent a letter to the city assuring it that the fleet is on an ongoing replacement schedule and up to eight new vehicles would be put into Lodi this year.

When Baum again wrote to the city and submitted new photos June 20, Public Works Director Richard Prima responded and explained that he had personally examined the new equipment at the company's Lodi site.

"It was very clear that the truck was leaking," Prima said, adding that armed with a picture bearing a date stamp, the city was able to contact the company with proof of maintenance issues on older trucks. "It was clear to us that Central Valley Waste could do a lot better. Since then, they have instituted a number of new procedures that should help cut down (on spills)."

District manager Alex Oseguera said the new preventative measures include twice-daily equipment checks and weekly maintenance, if necessary.

Drivers are instructed to bring vehicles back to the company's maintenance facility if they notice any problems, he said.

The company wants to make sure seals are in working order, Oseguera said.

The practice began this year.

The company is also working to replace vehicles on a regular rotation. At any given time, there are 12 to 15 vehicles servicing Lodi.

Baum admits his mobile home parks are old, but said they're immaculate.

"I keep my streets the same way," he said. "Just before the pictures were taken (in May 2001), I had re-done the streets with new seal coating."

When the grime started showing up on the roadway, Baum had his manager start checking to see which cars were leaking oil.

"After some detective work, we found out it was the garbage trucks making the mess," Baum said. "And each week it got worse."

Finally, the garbage company came out and power washed the streets - but the cleanup efforts didn't last, he said.

He believes he is the first stop on the collection route and has even seen a manager driving behind the truck in his neighborhood.

"But (the pollution) is all over town," Baum said. "What I want to know is, what's it costing the city to maintain those streets?"

George Bradley, city street superintendent, said the pollution is a concern for the city but it has all but stopped in the last year.

"According to the Clean Water Act, only rainwater should enter the storm drainage. Everything that falls on the street either gets picked up or makes it into the water eventually," Bradley said.

State and county water and environmental officials could not be reached for comment.

"We received some complaints about the local company, and they were very responsive," Bradley said. "They have taken an active approach, and I am very impressed."

Still, there is no way to completely cut down on leaks, Prima said.

"They're a good company. They're trying hard," he said.

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