City lifts ban on donation bins, considers new regulations

City council held a public hearing Monday on a proposal for adopting regulations on donation bins. 
 
The city had banned the donation bins in the past, as residents had complained about the maintenance of the public boxes. Some said that unusable goods—such as mattresses—were being dumped at the sites. These complaints were echoed in other parts of California where the donation bins popped up. Stanton and Corona were among the other California cities who had adopted bans.
 
In 2014 Planet Aid, a nonprofit that owns 20,000 clothing donation bins across the nation, won a Michigan court ruling that says the bans are a violation of 1st- and 14th-Amendment rights to free speech and equal protection. Planet Aid then sued Alhambra in April, citing the court decision. 
 
Now, Alhambra is allowing the donation bins back into city limits. To address past concerns, council is considering an ordinance that would require bin-owners to get a permit. The ordinance would also enact a set of regulations on the boxes. 
 
"There was concern about the condition of the boxes, the location of the boxes, as well as some of the trash and health issues associated with improperly maintained boxes," said City Attorney Joseph Montes. He said the new regulations will place limits on the size and location of the bins. The bins will also be required to be labeled with contact information.
 
One issue that residents had with the bins is that they seemed to pop up at random locations without the consent of land-owners. Alhambra's ordinance will require the property-owner and the owner of the bin to acquire a joint permit, making both parties accountable. The bin owner will need the consent of the land-owner, and the land-owner will be partly responsible for the maintenance of the bins.
 
No one from the public spoke at Monday's hearing. There will be a second reading of the ordinance at the next council meeting on Oct 12. 
 

2 thoughts on “City lifts ban on donation bins, considers new regulations”

  1. Alhambra is by no means alone in this dilemma. Blight and public right-of-way issues caused by the bins have been reported in hundreds of cities across the country as well as in Canada. Unauthorized bin placement is rampant. Out-of-town used good collectors often cause donations to dwindle at local charities. And some complain that non-local companies get a free ride ― pay no local taxes or fees ― even while little or none of the proceeds from their collections benefit the local populace. Further thoughts (sorry for the length):

    1) Planet Aid’s “free speech” tactic is a desperate ruse to distract from the fact that countless cities have seen a crying need to stop Planet Aid and its ilk from allowing their bins to become eyesores.

    2) Fresh from its flimsy victory in the Court of Appeals, Planet Aid says it doesn’t want to sue cities, but rather “supports proper regulation.” In my view, its real intent is to use the threat of a lawsuit to foist its gutless “sample legislation” on local governments.

    This shady outfit is exploiting its newfound leverage in even more ludicrous ways, such as in its lawsuit against the City of Mishawaka, Ind., not over a bin ban, but because the city council voted in April to deny zoning variances that would have allowed the company to turn a long-vacant building into a donation center. But council members said their key concern was using such a prominent corner, which some term a “gateway” to the city, as a donation site.

    3) Part of Planet Aid’s recommendations to city councils are for ridiculously low registration fees — $25 or $50 per bin. Such paltry sums would fall far short of covering the actual costs a city would incur in regulating the bins. Staff time for the application process is just the start. Passing an ordinance likely won’t make everyone suddenly behave. Some bins will still be blighted, and, most disconcerting, bins will be placed without permits in open defiance of city regulations.

    Some towns have properly researched the true costs of bin regulation. In its 2012 bin ordinance, the City Council of San Pablo, Calif. states that a “$1,768 application fee for each use permit … has been evaluated and does not exceed the cost of providing the service.”

    4) Planet Aid claims to take proper care of its bins, but in images from news stories across the country, the company’s yellow boxes are shown with donations and trash piled up next to them. In some shots, bins appear to be packed full while items strewn nearby seem to have been accumulating for a while (for photos, see last item in ‘description box’ of the ‘Kindness into Cash’ report, at end).

    5) Planet Aid doesn’t deserve the label of “charity.” The Chicago-based CharityWatch might agree, as the watchdog gave the nonprofit an “F” grade after analyzing its 2013 tax form and audited financial statements, determining that Planet Aid spent only 29% of its expenses on programs (see ‘CharityWatch’ at end)

    As bad as that is, the actual percentage may be far lower than even that, according to a 2009 investigation by WTTG News in Washington DC (see WTTG report, at end)

    6) Worse, WTTG also reported that Danish prosecutors link Planet Aid — and ‘USAgain,’ owner of the green & white bins in the area — to a cult called the Tvind Teachers Group. Five leaders of the group are Interpol fugitives wanted in their native Denmark in connection with a multimillion-dollar tax-fraud and embezzlement scheme.

    7) The Teachers Group (TG), the controlling body of the broader Tvind organization, is reportedly a political cult based on communist ideology. TG leaders control their followers to an alarming degree, according to ex-members.

    Self-described humanitarian programs run by Tvind-linked groups, many of which Planet Aid supports, have been criticized by former volunteers as being ineffective, culturally insensitive, environmentally unsustainable and even abusive toward volunteers.

    Similarly, Tvind’s “schools” around the world have elicited many complaints from former students, with allegations ranging from low standards of “training,” to dire living conditions, unreasonable work hours, bullying and even a “cult-like” atmosphere. Some ex-students also claim they were required to beg for money on American or European city streets and were exploited as free labor benefiting TG-owned businesses.

    Most disturbingly, many young TG members and Tvind participants have over the years been raped, injured or killed during ill-advised land and sea excursions. In many of these tragedies, the victims’ families directly blamed senior Tvind officials for knowingly endangering the youths. Tvind has never admitted to any wrongdoing.

    Not nice folks. And donations to Planet Aid and USAgain help to perpetuate all of this harm, if Danish authorities are correct.

    8) The profound irony here is that in defending Planet Aid’s right to “free speech,” the company’s lawyers have unwittingly helped an organization which, according to many defectors, denies that very freedom to its members. In his 2000 affidavit to Danish prosecutors, Steen Thomsen, a TG member from 1977 to 1998, listed his reasons for leaving the group. One was “The total lack of personal freedom. Tvind is a cult, just as much as … the Moonies are a cult. As part of the Teachers Group, you do not have the right of speaking or writing, you do not have any private life, you do not have any private possessions. All your life you dedicate to the Cult.”

    More on Planet Aid in the description box of WTTG’s report, below. Click ‘Show More’ while on that page. Google search:

    “Kindness into Cash” – exposé of used clothes company Planet Aid – pt. 1

    Also Google search:

    Planet Aid’s “Recycling” Program, Debunked! – CharityWatch

    Google search these reports on USAgain:

    Millions In Clothing Donations Diverted From Charity kirotv

    Local Mayor Wants Red Bins Out Usagain in Seattle YouTube

    Thanks for the chance to express my opinions. Research before you donate.

  2. I agree those bins are an eye-sore for the city. I really don’t understand how this became a 1st Amendment issue this HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH FREE SPEECH. I would hope Alhambra would join with other cities in appealing this decision (1st Amendment) – I feel this is stretching Free Speech too much.But if unwilling or unable to appeal the court decision – definitively YES for permits, requiring owners to (1) put up a bond (like a rental agreement), (2) make the owner liable for maintain the site clean (without use of city funds), and (2) with the permit, if the owners fail to comply, they lose their bond and city has a right to remove them. Also, the city /trash collection company need to expand/communicate their “bulk items” special pick-ups which I have used at times; perhaps many people are not aware of this service.As a condition of acquiring a permit, owners of the bins need to put on their bins , what items THEY DO NOT ACCEPT IN ENGLISH/MANDARIN/SPANISH…as part of dong business in the city.

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