Clothes donation drive stirs controversy

City 'crackdown' results in more bins, official says

Oakland Tribune/March 13, 2008

Oakland - City officials say they have cracked down on Campus California TG, a controversial nonprofit that has placed tall, green clothing-collection bins around Oakland.

But so far the crackdown hasn't reduced the number of bins around the city, and has cost the organization only $30, according to its recycling manager.

The clothing-collection operation of Campus California TG (Teachers Group) generated controversy recently because of its alleged links to Tvind, an alternative educational movement founded in Denmark in the 1970s, whose founder and subsidiaries have been under investigation for fraud and corruption.

CCTG collected 3.2 million pounds of donated clothing left in 300 boxes around the Bay Area last year, netting about $800,000 from the recycling operation.

Oakland City Councilmember Patricia Kernighan (Grand Lake-Chinatown) said earlier this year that she had some questions about the organization and said she would urge city staff to make sure CCTG had proper permits for its boxes.

Deputy City Administrator William Zenoni said he notified CCTG recycling manager Jan Sako last month that the organization would need to obtain a business license to operate in Oakland, and he would have to apply for an encroachment permit for every drop-off box located on public property. Each encroachment permit costs $850 to $900.

Sako said only one box had been on public property, and it has been removed. And because CCTG is a nonprofit, it has paid only a $30 registration fee - quite a savings comparedwith other businesses, which must pay a percentage of their gross receipts, Zenoni said.

In addition, Sako was required to provide a list of all box locations and copies of letters from property owners to show they agree with the donation boxes being placed on their property.

"He's been totally cooperative with us so far, and he's met all of our requirements," Zenoni said. "Now that we know they are there ... if we get complaints about blight, we can take action, but so far no complaints."

CCTG's collection boxes - now numbering about 350 around the Bay Area - are emptied at least once a week, officials said. The garments are trucked to a warehouse in Richmond, where they are squished into 1,000-pound bales and sold for 25 cents a pound to used clothing wholesalers across the country. The organization said it does not sort the clothes or operate a thrift store.

Sako said the money earned from clothing sales helps support a small school in Siskiyou County as well as the recycling operation. None of the recycling money goes to Tvind or to Humana, a subsidiary of Tvind, CCTG said.

But one critic - Ken Katz, a Grand Lake activist and founder of the Grand Lake Guardian Web site - doesn't think CCTG has been as cooperative as it claims.

Katz said he has worked to get one box removed from private property near Mandana Boulevard and Lakeshore Avenue, and he reported on his site last year that the council would try and pass legislation to limit the boxes.

Other critics of CCTG say people mistakenly believe the clothes they donate are either sent directly to Africa or sold to help poor children in developing countries. But Sako said the organization has never made such a claim.

Instead, it runs a 14-month program to train and send volunteers to Africa to help educate people about HIV/AIDS transmission and environmental issues, he said. Once there, they work for a nonprofit organization run by Humana.

The organization's existence in the Bay Area drew broader scrutiny in December 2006, after CBS-5 aired a television investigation about the various organizations and the recycled clothing operation. After that report, CCTG had to remove more than 30 boxes, including 20 from Berkeley, partly because of the bad publicity and also because Berkeley and other municipalities implemented stricter rules for the boxes.

So far it appears as though Oakland's new requirements have had little effect. In January, CCTG had 14 boxes in Oakland; now it appears to have at least 20, Sako said.

Zenoni said the organization is playing by the rules. "I know they are a nonprofit, but other than that, I don't know anything about them," he said.

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