HANFORD – Illegal trash is a common sight for thousands of drivers passing a drainage basin next to the westbound Highway 198 on-ramp from 11th Avenue.
But the piles of rain-soaked junk currently in and around the basin may be the worst ever seen there.
In several sections, the fence surrounding the basin has been peeled back, leaving big gaps for people to walk through.
No trespassing signs are posted on the fence.
The trash is piled not only around the perimeter of the basin, but is also floating in the foul-looking water that has partially filled it up from recent rains.
The problem, which city officials say is the result of ongoing, periodic homeless encampments, is a headache and a nuisance for employees at Cost Less and Big Lots.
"It's a mess," said Kris Martella, Big Lots store manager. "They need to clean it up."
Who owns the basin is a mystery not only to Martella, but also to others who work in the shopping center, which drains its rainwater runoff into the basin.
"It's always been a question of whose it is," said John Lemos, manager of Cost Less. "People driving by on Highway 198, it's an eyesore. It's horrible."
According to documents from the Kings County assessor's office, the owner of parcel that includes the drainage basin is Moisce Belinow, with a Los Angeles address.
Reached for comment by phone on Wednesday, Belinow denied ownership of the basin.
"It's not our property," he said.
However, Belinow, who said he owns the Big Lots building, said that the problem of homeless encampments and trash in the area is not limited to the basin itself.
Homeless encampments have also been located in the vacant field behind Big Lots.
"We've been dealing with it like crazy since the beginning," he said.
Belinow said he's hired security guards, installed lights and cut down vegetation in an effort to keep the homeless away.
"We have our hands full," he said. "I don't know what the solution is. I think Hanford in general has a homeless problem. They are automatically attracted to empty spaces. It's a big problem."
According to Deputy Hanford Public Works Director John Doyel, Belinow appears to own a majority of the basin.
Another portion of the basin is owned by Chabad Lubavitch Russian Synagogue in West Hollywood, according to Doyel.
Doyel said the synagogue owns the former Big Lots building and several strip-mall storefronts in the same shopping center.
The Cost Less building has a different owner.
Officials at the synagogue couldn't be immediately reached for comment.
Hanford Police Chief Parker Sever said that trash has been cleaned up "several times" from the basin in the past.
The homeless repeatedly move back in and the trash accumulates again, according to Hanford City Manager Darrel Pyle.
"It's pretty deplorable, but it's stereotypical of what we find in a homeless encampment," Pyle said. "It's the restroom, it's the trash can, it's the bedroom."
Sever said police don't have the resources to monitor the basin constantly to keep the homeless from establishing a foothold there.
Sever said that police have to follow a series of steps established by the courts before the homeless can be evicted.
He said the steps include notification, a period of time for the homeless to leave and protection for homeless people's personal belongings.
Sever said city employees have in the past done the trash cleanup themselves. He said the property owner has been cooperative.
There is a process by which city workers can legally go on the property and clean up the trash themselves, after which the bill is presented to the owner.
Pyle described the process as cumbersome and "exhaustive."
According to Hanford Police Officer James Sizemore, that process hasn't been initiated yet.
Sizemore said he's still working with Belinow to get him to clean it up voluntarily.
Sizemore said he's been monitoring trash accumulation at the site since Nov. 11.
He said that Belinow, working through property management firm American West Properties, located in Orange County, had previously scheduled a cleanup to take place on Nov. 21, but the cleanup never happened.
Sizemore said American West may have had a problem with the cleanup contractor.
Sizemore said Hanford code enforcement officials have mailed a nuisance letter to American West asking the property owner to clean up the site.
Sizemore said he's emailed several aerial drone photos of the location to American West showing the amount of trash.
Sizemore said that, as of Wednesday morning, he had heard from American West Properties employee Chris Soukup, and that Soukup indicated that Belinow has agreed to pay for a cleanup.
Soukup couldn't be immediately reached for comment.
"This process has taken a very long time," Sizemore said. "I don't know if that had to do with holiday vacations or not. I feel like we're close."