As law enforcement investigations go, this one shouldn't be too tough. The evidence is all too abundant and the perpetrators couldn't possibly hide their tracks any more ineptly.
You've probably even driven through the crime scene at some point: eastbound Highway 58 between Highway 99 and the Bena Landfill. Every day, dozens of pickup trucks (and larger trucks) make the 20-something-mile trek from central Bakersfield to Bena Road, hauling everything from rotten fencing to tree prunings. Many of them cover their loads, as required, but many of them don't. And the shoulder of eastbound 58 -- both directions, actually -- shows it. The degree of trashiness is stunning.
How do we know this roadside travesty is caused by untarped trucks headed to the landfill east of Bakersfield? Because motorists who continue eastward toward Tehachapi observe an immediate improvement: There's no roadside litter to speak of east of Bena Road. (That's not to say some of that trash isn't caused by ordinary, litter-flinging idiots; it surely is. But why should they worry much about it? The roadside is already a mess.)
Here's what we can do about it: Convince the California Highway Patrol to go after untarped loads on Highway 58. They're sure to generate a windfall of citation fines for the state. More importantly, though, after a few days (Saturdays especially) of these focused trash patrols, perhaps augmented by a public service announcement campaign, word will get out: Cover your load or write a check.
Some will say the CHP has plenty to do already, and they are correct. But the CHP is in the best position to address this problem, which many feel reflects poorly on Bakersfield overall. Enhanced litter patrols on Highway 58 would address only one limited aspect of the problem, but that's how many quality-of-life issues are solved -- with multiple solutions.
And Bakersfield's litter problem is under attack on several fronts. The city of Bakersfield deserves credit for working with Caltrans and the Bakersfield Homeless Center to devise an arrangement -- apparently now in the detail-refinement stage -- that could provide minimum-wage litter cleanup jobs to a disadvantaged population. The Kern County Sheriff's Office has pitched in with inmate work crews. And now comes word that the Kern Council of Governments is interested in fighting freeway litter to the tune of $250,000, with some of those funds going to overtime pay for CHP officers involved in special litter enforcement.
Here's hoping the CHP can figure out a way to contribute without compromising its primary responsibilities. If we're sick of the mess, CHP officers ought to be, too.