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Charity Fights Bay Area Ban on Clothing Bins

      SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Oakland and Hayward, Calif. have illegally banned collection bins for clothing, books and other used items, a nonprofit claims in two federal lawsuits.

Recycle for Change, a 15-year-old nonprofit based in Richmond, Calif., sued the cities in separate complaints on Nov. 6.

The charity claims new ordinances restricting its donation bins, which are on private property, violate free speech and equal protections clauses in the U.S. and California constitutions.

Oakland and Hayward in October passed new rules that limit the areas where bins can be placed, require annual permit fees and impose fines on non-complying bin owners.

The donation bins had become a target of criticism this year when complaints poured in that they were a "public nuisance" that attracted "graffiti, scavenging and illegal dumping," according to an Oakland Planning and Building Department report.

Other critics have complained that many bins are operated by for-profit entities, who steer donations away from charities that benefit local communities and create jobs, such as Goodwill and St. Vincent De Paul.

But Recycle for Change says it partners with Bay Area charities, including the East Oakland nonprofit food pantry Helping Hands: Together We Thrive, and with groups fighting poverty in Africa, the Caribbean and Central and South America.

"The revenue generated by plaintiff's [unattended donation bins] is, by far, the major source of plaintiff's income," the lawsuits state. "That revenue is used to fund plaintiff and charitable activities in the Bay Area and around the world."

Oakland passed an emergency moratorium in April blocking new donation boxes from entering the city as it crafted new legislation to regulate the unattended collection bins.

Oakland passed its new donation box ordinance on Oct. 20; Hayward approved its restrictions on Oct. 13.

Recycle for Change claims the new Hayward rules give "special treatment" to brick and mortar solicitors like GoodWill, which the plaintiff claims lobbied for passage of the new rules.

Hayward requires donation box owners to pay a $210 permit fee and forbids collection boxes within 1,000 feet of brick and mortar donation centers.

"The effect of this exemption is to give such solicitors 'first dibs' to bar any competition in a 1,000-foot radius," the lawsuit states.

The Oakland ordinance requires $535 fees for new donation boxes plus a $245 annual renewal fee. Oakland also requires bins to be on the same lots as principal buildings, "to assure people can monitor the daily maintenance of the facilities," according to the city's building and planning department.

Under the new rules, Oakland can fine donation box owners noncompliance fees of $750 on the first day, $1,000 on the second day, and $1,500 for each following day, with a $10,000 annual cap.

Oakland's building and planning department estimates there are 152 unattended donation bins within city limits.

Recycle for Change operates 63 bins in Oakland and 51 in Hayward, according to court records. It says it collected 400,000 pounds of used clothing and other items in Hayward and 647,000 pounds in Oakland last year.

The recycling charity claims its donation bins in Oakland and Hayward help divert more than 1 million pounds of used clothing and textiles from ending up in landfills each year.

It says the cities have applied their new laws unequally by placing stricter limits on its donation centers than on religiously based brick and mortar centers. It also claims its bins are unfairly restricted compared with other types of unattended outdoor bins, such as trashcans.

It seeks declaratory judgment, damages for constitutional violations, and injunctions to stop enforcement of the new rules.

It is represented by John Schilt with the Tenax Law Group in Richmond.

Attorneys for Oakland did not immediately return requests for comment. Oakland City Councilors Dan Kalb and Abel J. Guillen, who voted in favor of the ordinance, did not respond to requests for comment.

A city of Hayward spokesman said the city worked hard to address community concerns while drafting a new policy that would allow collection box organizations to continue operating within the city.

"Our ordinance is the result of careful study and outreach to both our community and representatives of the collection box industry," the spokesman said.

In August, another nonprofit sued Jacksonville , Fla., for banning unattended outdoor donation bins.

In April, the Sixth Circuit overturned a Michigan city's ban on outdoor collection bins, finding the city could employ less restrictive rules to combat blight.

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