Have you ever heard of Lanare? If you have not, you are not alone. Most people ignore that Lanare is a small unincorporated community 24 miles southwest of the city of Fresno. Despite its small population (according to the 2010 Census 589 people live in Lanare), this community has earned a reputation of having community leaders who are fearless when it comes to advocating for solutions to the problems that threaten their well-being.
In the mid-2000s, the residents learned that their water had higher than the state limits for arsenic. The state’s first response was to provide funding to the local water district for a treatment plant, but they lacked the funding to keep it operational, so the community suffered from contaminated water for more than a decade.
Lanare residents, with the support of nonprofits such as California Rural Legal Assistance and Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, formed the local group Comunidad Unida Por el Lanare (Community United for Lanare), which engaged in a long advocacy journey that took them numerous times to Sacramento, until finally in 2019 two new wells were completed and the community finally had access to safe drinking water.
In 2018, Lanare community leaders engaged in another uphill battle, cleaning what they described as an “eyesore” on Garfield Avenue—a place that was easy to spot because squatters had accumulated massive amounts of debris and trash (e.g., heavy-duty tires, furniture, building materials, broken household appliances, dismantled cars, ag waste) that was piled on a surface that at one point covered half a mile.
To make matters worse, numerous times the trash caught fire (or was set on fire on purpose) causing black clouds of smoke that sent at least one resident who suffered from asthma to the emergency room and cost thousands of taxpayer dollars so firefighters from the closest station in Caruthers could put out the fire.
For five years, residents reported the accumulation of trash and the fires to local agencies such as the code enforcement division of Fresno County, the office of Supervisor Buddy Mendes, the Environmental Health Department and the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. Sadly, the response of these agencies was not what the community wanted: prompt abatement.
It took more than one year for these agencies to identify the owners of the property, who, according to the government agencies, were responsible for the cleanup. And when the heirs of this property were finally reached, two more years went by without any of these agencies willing to do more than send letters to the owners asking them to clean up.
In the meantime, trash continued to accumulate and burn. But where was this trash coming from? Lanare residents were convinced that the squatters living on the property were getting paid to allow the illegal dumping. Brave neighbors took photos that showed company trucks unloading trash, but when these photos were sent to the government agencies, they said it was not sufficient proof because the photos did not show money being exchanged.
In 2022, the cleanup finally started and concluded in February 2023. It took the joint efforts of the state agency CalRecycle and various departments in Fresno County (County Counsel, Public Works, Environmental Health, the Sheriff’s Office) to dismantle this illegal dump.
For community leader Isabel Solorio, who works tirelessly to help her community (e.g., she has organized two community cleanups, leads two food distributions every month and represents Lanare in a statewide advisory group of the State Water Board), this is a success and “proof that when we work as a team—residents, community organizations and government entities—we can make a difference, and we can improve the places where we live.” With a big smile, she proudly showed us some pictures of how the dump site looked before and after the cleanup.
While we are happy for Lanare, this is not the only community affected by illegal dumping. The Fresno County Sheriff’s Office states that “illegal dumping sites are getting out of hand in Fresno County” and that they represent a significant problem as an environmental hazard affecting the quality of life.
The escalation of this problem prompted the collaboration of the Sheriff’s Office—specifically the Agricultural Task Force—and the Department of Public Works. These two agencies announced in May 2021 an allocation of $150,000 over three years to have more staff to address this problem.
Three years after this announcement, the problem continues and anyone driving around rural areas can attest to it. Orchards, empty lots and sides of the roads are plagued with broken appliances, mattresses, tires and all sorts of trash.
Report Illegal Dumping
You can help by doing what Lanare residents did: Report and speak up to denounce illegal dumping.
- To report illegal dumping while it is happening, contact the Sheriff’s Office dispatchers at 559-600-3111 and, if possible, e-mail photos to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- To report trash along roads and on private property, contact the Department of Public Works at 559-600-4240 or email@example.com.
- Report infractions to the Identifying Violations Affecting Neighborhoods (IVAN) network at ivanfresno.org or by calling 559-396-3839.