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Cameras catch illegal dumping
San Mateo contractor accused of leaving carpet in vacant lot 23 times

By Todd R. Brown, STAFF WRITER
Article Last Updated:09/01/2006 12:17:40 PM PDT

SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO Talk about getting nailed by Big Brother.

A subcontractor for a local carpet installer has been hit with a lawsuit by the city of San Francisco alleging that he illegally dumped carpets in a vacant lot 23 times over nearly eight months. The man was caught by wireless cameras that transmitted images from the Bayview lot to a pair of laptops.

The suit accuses San Mateo County resident Wilfredo Amaya of unloading carpeting and padding that was ultimately traced to Dave's Carpets in South San Francisco.

"The carpet that was dumped bore wrapping and invoices from Dave's Carpets ... almost every time," said San Francisco Deputy City Attorney Yvonne Mere. "Dave's Carpets gave us Mr. Amaya's cell phone."

A woman who answered the company's phone and gave her name as "Christine" said the suit had nothing to do with Dave's and that Amaya was not a full-time employee.

"He's a subcontractor. He actually gets work from a lot of people," she said, declining to talk further.

The suit, filed last week in Superior Court in San Francisco, asks for $25,673 for the clean-up and investigation into the dumping and other penalties for diminished property value that Mere said could reach six figures.

"This is the first case of its kind," she said. "There are other cameras that are crime-suppression cameras, but they are very different." Department of Public Works spokeswoman Christine Falvey said the agency installed six cameras for $150,000 in March and April in Bayview-Hunter's Point to document illicit dumping in the increasingly residential area where about a third of the city's violations take place.

"There's a lot of dark, dead-end streets," she said. "That's attractive for someone who wants to break the law in the middle of the night."

The movable cameras, supplied by Oakland-based CBX Technologies, are affixed to city property and beam images wirelessly to an access point on Twin Peaks and back to laptops in the public works office on Cesar Chavez Street, where workers review the footage from overnight.

"We're able to zoom in on the license plate, which is key," Falvey said. "We have a very strong case."

Officials said most of the dumping took place between midnight and 4 a.m. between Dec. 12 and Aug. 1 in a vacant lot at Thomas Avenue and Griffith Street. Signs on a fence at the property are marked "No Dumping."

Although Dave's Carpets is mentioned in the suit, Mere said the South City firm is not a defendant. However, she said more defendants could be named if new information is learned once Amaya is served.

Mere said the subcontractor lives in San Mateo County, but would not specify where.

Falvey said she wants to send the message that businesses can't undercut their competitors and ignore environmental and land-use rules about dumping and get away clean, especially when disposal sites in the Baylands are easily accessible.

"We're really going after professional haulers and contractors," she said. "It's not a very high cost of business to go to Tunnel Avenue. These are people really looking for shortcuts. That impacts everybody's quality of life."

Bret Watson, a consultant for CBX on the camera project, said surveillance at the intersection of Selby Street and Evans Avenue beneath Interstate 280 is another location cameras have been effective.

"The minute those cameras went up, the dumping ceased," he said. "This particular area is notorious at night. There's quite a bit of homeless activity. People were dumping large appliances. Basically it became a deterrent."

Watson said the technology could be used for graffiti abatement and other crime prevention uses. He said he's heard interest from Peninsula cities, though no police contracts are in the offing.

"As long as it's in the mesh of the network," he said, meaning within unobstructed sight of a wireless access point, "you can virtually put the cameras anywhere that other problems are taking place."

Staff writer Todd R. Brown covers the North County. Reach him at (650) 348-4473 or tbrown@sanmateocountytimes.com

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