Creation and Enactment of a Marin County Vehicle Tarp Ordinance
Submitted May 13, 2015

Jill Whitebook, Vicky Dehnert
Co-Founders, Marin Clean Highways


As Marin County Supervisors, you frequently hear complaints from constituents regarding debris on our roads.  Marin Clean Highways has been working on the debris problem for two years and achieved our initial goal of keeping Strawberry frontage roads clean. 

We have turned our attention to a broader area, Highway 101 and Marin county roads and streets.  Highway 101 is a direct route to the Marin Sanitary Service facility in San Rafael and the Redwood Landfill in Novato.   Despite the existing California State law, veh:23114/23115[1] that requires loads to be covered, the majority of the highway debris comes from uncovered vehicles by accidental spillage and to a lessor extent, purposefully. Our direct observation of vehicles entering local disposal facilities showed approximately 80% were uncovered loads.  This is consistent with findings from other jurisdictions in California.

This white paper serves to give an overall explanation of a proposal for a Marin County Vehicle Tarp ordinance and define critical elements for a successful program with the goal of reducing roadside debris.   


The debris on the shoulders of Highway 101 in Marin County is an environmental threat, a safety hazard and a visual eyesore.

Environmental Threat:  Road debris is likely to end up in the Bay through our storm drains or by being blown directly into the Bay.*  In keeping with the Clean Water Act, the California State Water Board adopted an amendment to control trash entering our waterways.  Caltrans only cleans state highways quarterly, at best resulting in debris often piling up for months.[2]  Caltrans does not allow highway adoption south of San Rafael to the Golden Gate Bridge, citing safety concerns.  In turn, some of this debris blows onto city and county roads, becoming the responsibility of local and county jurisdiction.

We have met with Caltrans District 4 (Marin County) top management on several occasions.  Regarding the state budget and allocations, they cited Gov. Brown and the legislature as the reason they cannot keep up with this increasing problem of roadside debris.  Caltrans spent the following amounts for highway litter removal for fiscal year ending June 30, 2014:

Marin County               $     698,456

Caltrans District 4        $14,674,474
Statewide                    $52,864,252 [3]

Safety Hazard:  Road debris can be dangerous. As reported by Gurwinder Rakkar, CHP Support Services Section, for the ten-year period of 2004-2014, Marin County had 398 collisions due to debris on the road, with 120 people injured.  AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reports that roadside debris is responsible for 25,000 accidents and 80-90 deaths per year.[4]

While every state has a tarp law, calCIMA states that regulations tend to be “strictest on the East Coast and become more lenient as they move westward.  California is considered to have some of the weakest laws on the books.”[5]

According to Andy Barclay, CHP Information Officer, Marin County CHP will not cite drivers unless they witness objects falling from the vehicle.  This is due to the ambiguity of the current California State law.  According to the GAO 13-24 Unsecured Loads Report, “statutory language can be ambiguous, or require law enforcement officials either to witness the unsecured load falling or have the load actually fall to the ground to be considered a statutory violation. This language makes law enforcement respond reactively rather than proactively.”[6]



The solution to reducing roadside debris is a clear, concise and enforceable county tarp ordinance with associated fines for infractions.  Officer Barkley stated the CHP would enforce a Marin County tarp ordinance.

With the goal of keeping their communities clean and free of roadside debris, at least twenty-three California counties and several cities have ordinances requiring all open bed vehicles have their loads securely covered (tarped) and contained to prevent any spill, leakage or littering. 

Following are components to ensure a successful Marin County Vehicle Tarp Your Load Program:

Enactment of a Marin County Tarp Ordinance*
Endorsement by Board of Supervisors, Mayors, City Council members
Development of a brochure (bilingual) announcing the new ordinance and description of how to properly cover a load
Education of the community through public service announcements, media blitz, pamphlets and brochures strategically placed at hardware stores and building inspection offices 
Enforcement by law officers at city, county and state (CHP) levels
Periodic “sting” operations by off duty law enforcement to ensure compliance
Cooperation by Marin Sanitary Service and Redwood Landfill; numerous facilities throughout California impose a surcharge for uncovered loads

The cost of educational material and enforcement may be ameliorated or offset by fines.  Cost of tarps (if not donated) may be offset by facility surcharges. 

There are several specific tarp programs throughout the state.  Benefits have been dramatically cleaner roads, influencing behavioral change, increasing environmental awareness, and the potential for increased revenue from citations. One program that has been particularly successful and is a good model for Marin County is the City of Sunnyvale’s SMaRT Station (Sunnyvale Materials Recovery and Transfer).*


By enacting an enforceable county ordinance requiring that all loads be tarped, Marin County can once again have cleaner and safer public roads, restore the natural beauty to our countryside, set a higher standard for our communities, and be more appealing to visitors, relocating residents and business owners.  Marin County has been a leader in environmental awareness and stewardship. This is an issue that can be resolved fairly easily while demonstrating that commitment.   


Wil Hauke, Maintenance Manager I, Caltrans District 4, North Bay



Sample Tarp Ordinances

City of Sunnyvale

8.16.190. Vehicles, conveyances and containers-Applicable regulations. (a) All vehicles, conveyances or containers used for hauling solid waste within the city shall be of such construction as to comply fully with all laws, rules and regulations of the state of California pertaining thereto, and shall be of a type and construction to prevent leakage, spillage or overflow. This ordinance is intended to implement the requirements of Vehicle Code section 23114, or its successor statute. (b) Any operator of an uncovered open bed truck hauling waste and recyclables for disposal at the SMaRT station shall be subject to payment of a fee for which the operator shall receive a tarp to be used for covering debris and solid waste. The fee for the truck tarp shall be established from time to time by resolution 

Sonoma County
Sec. 22-6. - Transporting of solid waste.
Spill Prevention. No person shall transport solid waste or biosolids over any public highway unless such solid waste or biosolids are contained in such a manner as to prevent dropping or spilling upon the highway.
Fire Prevention. No person shall transport recently burned solid waste.
(Ord. No. 5679 § 2, 2006: Ord. No. 3079; Ord. No. 1069 § 14.)


Kern County
8.28.070 - Transportation—Loads must be covered

A. It is unlawful for any person to transport in or upon any vehicle, over any public thoroughfare within the unincorporated area of the county, any solid waste, unless the solid waste is completely covered or secured in a manner preventing it from falling or blowing away from the transporting vehicle.
B. It is unlawful for any person that owns a vehicle to knowingly permit any other person to transport solid waste in or upon that vehicle, over any public thoroughfare within the unincorporated area of the county, unless the solid waste is completely covered or secured in a manner preventing it from falling or blowing away from the transporting vehicle.
(Ord. G-6530 § 3 (part), 1998)


Orange County
Sec. 4-13-52. - Litter control.
No person shall discard any waste material including but not limited to common household rubbish or garbage of any kind (whether generated or accumulated at a residence, business or other location), upon any public property, whether occupied, open or vacant, including but not limited to any street, sidewalk, alley, right-of-way, open area or point of entry to the stormwater drainage system.                                          

(Ord. No. 3987, § 1, 7-22-97; Ord. No. 11-009, § 1, 3-22-11)

Sec. 4-3-95. - Transportation of solid waste.No person shall convey or transport solid wastes upon or along any public highway in the County unless such solid waste is contained and/or covered or otherwise secured so as to prevent it from leaking, dripping, falling, blowing or scattering from the vehicle in which it is being conveyed or transported. All vehicles and equipment used in the transport of any form of refuse shall be kept clean. No person shall drain the liquid from any such vehicle upon any road or highway or upon any other land in such manner as to create an unsanitary condition. Persons hauling solid wastes on the public highways shall completely empty the solid wastes from their vehicles and/or containers at the disposal site, or re-cover them if they are not completely emptied, in order to prevent the scattering of residue on the return trip.  (Ord. No. 2622, § 2, 9-19-72)