A new law in Fountain Valley that aims to clean up parks and other public spaces by cutting down on scavenging is closer to adoption.

The City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved the first reading of an ordinance amending the city's scavenging law. The law will go into effect upon adoption of the second reading at the next council meeting March 18.

Fountain Valley Police Department officials said there have been increased complaints about individuals going through trash containers and scattering garbage behind them or dumping liquid out of recyclable containers on the sidewalk, specifically at the recreation center.

Officers couldn't cite people for breaking the existing scavenging law, which previously did not apply to public places.

"They help themselves to the recyclables and unfortunately leave a significant mess behind," Police Chief Dan Llorens said.

The current law prohibits scavenging in residential containers at curbside and large commercial dumpsters — receptacles picked up by Rainbow Environmental Services — but the new ordinance includes commercial centers, parks and public property.

"The police department's approach to scavenging is left to a lot of discretion of the officers," Llorens said. "We get a complaint, or the officers observe the scavenging, and a vast majority of the time, the officers do not take enforcement action."

Repeat offenders are documented by police but few citations are written, Llorens said.

"In the last three years, we've probably cited between 3% and 5% of the calls for service we receive for scavenging," Llorens said. "We try a soft touch at first. We understand people are trying to make a little extra money, times are hard, but unfortunately the end result is kind of a blight in the community."

Scavenging becomes more of a problem in parks during events like Summerfest, Llorens said.

"Anyone who has been especially at the sports park is aware that this goes on at every big event," said Councilwoman Cheryl Brothers.

Brothers suggested that for the first year after enacting the ordinance, the police have a stronger presence to enforce it.

"I think we need more visible suits in the beginning, whatever the suits may be, whether it's code enforcement or actual law enforcement," Brothers said. "If you, as a citizen, admonish anyone for doing that, letting them know they shouldn't be doing it, you're totally ignored."

Councilman Steve Nagel proposed that the city post signage in parks to let people know about the changed law.

Llorens said there are currently no plans to update signs in public parks, but that the new ordinance applies to all public spaces, not just parks.

Mayor Michael Vo said he was sympathetic toward scavengers, who are "trying to make ends meet," but the changed law is needed.

"The people that pick it out of the trash can, we all feel sorry for them," Vo said. "The picking out of trash and just trashing the whole place, and not even taking care of their own mess, that eventually could become a health hazard to our residents."