It is the black "goop" that bothers Sandra Hunt the most. It runs down her Winnetka Avenue gutter from some nearby auto repair shops and collects candy wrappers, paper cups and cigarette butts tossed in the street.
At least once a week, Hunt and her mother, Delores, take a broom, shovel and garbage bag and clean up the mess outside their Canoga Park home. And they complain a lot to the city's Bureau of Street Maintenance.
"I don't know why we pay taxes," Sandra Hunt said recently. "They never clean this street."
Hunt lives on one of the hundreds of streets in the city of Los Angeles that are not posted for regular street sweeping, which means that her neighborhood gets swept about once a month rather than once a week. And since there are no signs restricting parking on sweeping days, the cleaning often does little good because the gutters--where 97% of debris piles up--are blocked by automobiles.
It has been almost 15 years since the Los Angeles City Council added streets to the city's posted sweeping schedule, but complaints from residents such as Hunt may change that. Several proposals to add thousands of miles of new posted residential routes are being mulled over by two council committees, and the full council is expected to take them up early next year.
"I hear about it every time I meet with block clubs or neighborhood groups," said Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores. "People want their streets cleaned."
But the proposals carry hefty price tags and involve sensitive political decisions that the council may be reluctant to make. Should the city provide the same level of street sweeping to all neighborhoods? What areas are the neediest? Who should pay for the expanded sweeping routes?
One proposal would add a one-time $36 charge to the water and power bills of residents who live on streets that would get new postings. In some parts of the city, residents have already offered to buy "No Parking" signs for their streets to get better service. Some council members say they find such alternatives offensive, but others say they may be the way of the future.
Currently, all 13,085 curb miles of paved residential streets in the city get swept, but some neighborhoods get more frequent service than others. (Curb miles are a measure of the curbs on both sides of a street, meaning a one-mile-long street has two curb miles).
About 1,926 curb miles are swept at least once a week at night, because they are major or secondary highways in commercial and industrial areas, with which the city deals separately from predominantly residential neighborhoods. An additional 3,419 curb miles are posted with "No Parking" signs and are swept weekly during the day.
The remaining 7,740 curb miles--more than half the residential streets in the city--have no posted parking restrictions and are swept on an irregular basis, averaging once every 4 1/2 weeks.
"What people want more than anything else is a safe city and a clean city," said Councilman Joel Wachs, one of several council members interested in converting some or all of the 7,740 curb miles to more regular sweeping schedules. "The two go hand in hand. There is a relationship between how a city looks and what kind of activities go on there--how safe it is."
Postal worker Patric Quinn said residents in his Canoga Park neighborhood rank the need for cleaner streets just behind efforts to eliminate graffiti and gang-related crime.
"If a neighborhood looks like a dump, that is the way people are going to feel about it," said Quinn, who recently organized neighbors in the Owensmouth Avenue area. "And if they feel that way, they aren't going to care about anything."
The council stopped adding posted routes in 1975 because the "No Parking" signs, sweeping equipment and additional personnel were too expensive. The expanded sweeping proposal preferred by the city's Bureau of Street Maintenance would cost more than $80 million over five years. The city spends about $13 million a year on street cleaning.
Officials say the city is relatively healthy financially, but new programs still mean trade-offs. Each dollar spent on sweeping streets, for example, is a dollar less for police officers or sewer mains. For $80 million, the city could pay the salaries of 350 new police officers for five years, according to the Police Department.
And new problems, some very costly, continue to come up. In a recent report, City Administrative Officer Keith Comrie warned council members that state gas tax revenues--which are frequently used for street programs, such as paving and sweeping--will be needed for seismic reinforcement of bridges and roadways identified since the Bay Area earthquake in October.
"It is important to assess the priority of posting additional street-sweeping routes with other city programs and financial commitments," Comrie wrote.
Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, who chairs the council's Budget and Finance Committee, has put off decisions about the proposals until January because of the large sums of money involved. Yaroslavsky said he wants to consider them during the council's midyear budget review, when the council decides about new funding requests from throughout the city.
"I am not opposed to more sweeping, but we are talking about a lot of money," Yaroslavsky said. "It is critical that we see it in the broader context of the city's budget. If the economy has really cooled off this year, and our revenue projections are too optimistic, then all of this may be pie in the sky."
Street maintenance officials say it is an ideal time to consider expanding the city's sweeping program. The Bureau of Street Maintenance has put behind it a series of problems in 1986 and 1987 involving mechanically flawed equipment and a backlog of unswept streets in residential neighborhoods. And, according to Assistant Director David A. Reed, the bureau has caught up with some other pressing priorities, such as street paving.
"We think it is a damn good time to concentrate on some of the quality of life aspects of this city," Reed said.
Although Reed said the bureau has not pushed for any particular proposal, officials have made it clear that they prefer one calling for weekly restricted parking routes on all 7,740 curb miles still not posted. Under the proposal, about 1,550 curb miles would be added each year for five years, at an eventual cost of $80 million--the most expensive option.
Other proposals being considered range from adding 775 to 3,600 curb miles of weekly posted sweeping routes. Several of the proposals also suggest creating a new category, monthly posted routes, which would keep streets on a four-week schedule but would impose new parking restrictions on sweeping days. The cheapest proposal would cost about $5 million.
"Our greatest concern is that if the council decides to begin posting again, that it make some kind of commitment to continue the program," Reed said. "If you start the program up again, you are going to raise people's expectations. Then all of a sudden if it stops again . . . that would make a lot of people very angry."
Early discussions among council members have already touched upon one of the most sensitive issues in city government: the equity of city services across community borders and council districts. Flores, whose district extends from Watts to Wilmington, has suggested that sweeping schedules be made more uniform citywide.
One proposal by Flores would add 775 curb miles of weekly posted street sweeping, as well as 6,965 curb miles of monthly routes. The weekly postings would involve erecting about 50,000 "No Parking" signs on residential streets identified by the Bureau of Street Maintenance and the City Council as the dirtiest in the city.
Flores likes the proposal because it attempts to balance the number of weekly posted curb miles among the council's 15 districts by assigning more new miles to those districts that currently have fewer posted curb miles. As an example, Yaroslavsky's district, which currently has three times more posted curb miles than Flores' district, would get 14 additional curb miles compared to Flores' 109.
"I want everyone in this city to be equal," Flores said. "What is happening now is people in some parts of the city are getting different kinds and different levels of city services than people in other areas. That is wrong."
Yaroslavsky, on the other hand, said the city cannot afford to provide the same level of service throughout. He said the council must select the neediest areas.
"We have to be discriminating with our budget dollar," he said. "Not every neighborhood gets the same amount of police protection. Not every neighborhood is going to get the same amount of street cleaning. It is just the way it is."
The city began establishing posted street-sweeping routes in the early 1960s. Officials intended to eventually post all residential streets. But when money ran out in 1975, there were still large areas without signs. To qualify for signs, more than 25% of the curbside parking spaces on a particular block had to be occupied at sweeping time--a formula the Bureau of Street Maintenance intends to continue using, if new routes are approved by the council.
Generally, the city assigned highest priorities to streets in the central city, gradually adding streets in outlying communities as years passed. But politics and timing also played a role.
Street maintenance officials typically responded to requests from council members, who were sometimes more concerned about pleasing voters than tending to the city's dirtiest streets. As a result, some areas of the city developed a patchwork of postings. In Atwater Village, for example, streets north of Glendale Boulevard are posted for weekly sweeping, but those south of the boulevard are not.
Recent complaints about poor sweeping in some areas of the city are due in part to the changing landscape of Los Angeles, city officials said. Some streets that did not qualify for restricted parking routes 15 years ago are now crowded with parked cars from new apartment buildings and condominiums. Sweepers that once were able to hug the curb without posted parking restrictions are now confined to the center of the street because of heavy curbside parking.
"We have not found a street sweeper yet that will go under a motor vehicle," said Reed of the Bureau of Street Maintenance. "If we can't get to the gutters and curbs, we can't guarantee anybody a clean street. There are many areas of the city that are not going to be as clean as the residents would like them unless there is an expansion of restricted parking."
Frustration about inadequate sweeping has run so high in some Harbor Gateway neighborhoods, the narrow city strip connecting Watts to the Los Angeles Harbor, that residents have offered to pay for their own "No Parking" signs. Tom and Betty Anderson, who live on 149th Street near Rosecrans Park, have collected more than 200 signatures of residents willing to chip in for the signs.
"All the trash and junk blows down our street from the park," Tom Anderson said. "It really needs to be swept more than once a month. And with some 'No Parking' signs, we would be able to call in the parking enforcement people and get some of the parked cars ticketed. Right now the guy cruises down the middle of the street. It is a waste."
The city Department of Transportation, which oversees the placement of "No Parking" signs and their enforcement, estimated in a recent report that it would cost $2.1 million to manufacture, post and maintain for five years the 50,000 signs needed to add 775 curb miles of weekly sweeping. The report said it would cost each affected "business or dwelling unit" $36 for the signs.
Flores, who represents the Harbor Gateway area, said she wouldn't stand in the way of constituents wanting to pay for their own signs, but she described such arrangements as unfair. She said everyone in the city should pay for the signs, or no one should.
"Maybe we could cut that $36 price tag in half if everyone was paying it," Flores said.
Wachs said he also would consider charging for the service, but Councilwoman Joy Picus, whose San Fernando Valley district would get 142 of the 775 proposed curb miles, said a fee for the signs would simply anger residents who are already fuming about their dirty streets.
"They would be just outraged by it," Picus said. "I would not support it."
Free or not, some residents don't want anything to do with the signs. A neighborhood in San Pedro recently had its signs removed because residents were tired of getting parking tickets on sweeping days. They gave up their weekly sweeping with the signs. And in some affluent areas, residents say they would rather have their gardeners clean the street than clutter the parkways with unsightly "No Parking" signs.
"Frankly, signs are a form of litter themselves," one Hollywood Hills resident said.
Regardless of what action the council takes, several officials said the effort to clean the streets of Los Angeles will take more than stepped-up sweeping schedules. Flores says she cleans the street outside her San Pedro home and encourages complaining constituents to take a broom to their streets too.
Gail Watson, executive director of Los Angeles Beautiful Inc., said many residents need to change bad habits.
"I am here in an area where they have street sweepers all the time," Watson said from her downtown office. "But the area is still a mess. The only answer is for the people who live and work around here to care about it. We need to educate people to be concerned about dropping things in the street or out the car window. Then we wouldn't need to spend all this money on cleaning the streets."
PROPOSED RESTRICTED PARKING
One proposal before the City Council would add 775 curb miles of posted street sweeping routes. Curb miles are a measure of the curbs on both sides of a street, meaning a one-mile-long street has two curb miles. The following are among the routes identified by the Bureau of Street Maintenance as likely candidates for weekly service:
1. Hart Street from Lankershim Boulevard to Laurel Canyon Boulevard; Laurel Canyon from Hart to Victory Boulevard; Victory from Laurel Canyon to Lankershim Boulevard; Lankershim from Victory to Hart Street. (14.6 curb miles)
2. Hart Street from Tujunga Avenue to Lankershim Boulevard; Lankershim from Hart to Victory Boulevard; Victory from Lankershim to Tujunga Avenue; Tujunga from Victory to Hart Street. (14 curb miles)
3. Sarah Street from Tujunga Avenue to Laurel Canyon Boulevard; Laurel Canyon from Sarah to Valleyheart Drive; Valleyheart from Laurel Canyon to a line generally east to Colfax Avenue; Colfax from Valley Springs Lane to Ventura Boulevard; Ventura Boulevard; Ventura from Colfax to Tujunga Avenue; Tujunga from Ventura to Sarah Street. (32 curb miles)
4. Saticoy Street from San Diego Freeway to Valjean Avenue; Valjean from Saticoy to Sherman Way; Sherman Way from Valjean to San Diego Freeway; west of the San Diego Freeway from Sherman Way to Saticoy Street. (14.4 curb miles)
5. Sherman Way from Haskell Avenue to Woodley Avenue; Woodley from Sherman Way to Victory Boulevard; Victory from Woodley to Haskell Avenue; Haskell from Victory to Vanowen Street. (29.4 curb miles)
6. A line generally from Filmore Street to Natick Avenue; Plummer Street from Natick to east of the San Diego Freeway; east of the San Diego Freeway from Plummer to Nordhoff Street; Nordhoff from east of the San Diego Freeway to Woodman Avenue; Woodman from Nordhoff to Filmore Street. (31.6 curb miles)
7. Roscoe Boulevard from Canoga Avenue to Topanga Canyon Boulevard; Topanga Canyon from Roscoe to Wyandotte Street; Wyandotte from Topanga Canyon to Canoga Avenue; Canoga from Wyandotte to Roscoe Boulevard. (18.2 curb miles)
8. Roscoe Boulevard from Lindley Avenue to Reseda Boulevard; Reseda from Roscoe to Saticoy Street; Saticoy from Reseda to Lindley Avenue; Lindley from Saticoy to Roscoe Boulevard. (14.4 curb miles)
9. Oxnard Street from Lindley Avenue to Wilbur Avenue; Wilbur from Oxnard to the Ventura Freeway; north of the Ventura Freeway from Wilbur to Forbes Avenue; Forbes from the Ventura Freeway to Burbank Boulevard; Burbank from Forbes to Wish Avenue; Wish from Burbank to Martha Street; Martha from Wish to Lindley Avenue; Lindley from Martha to Oxnard Street. (14.2 curb miles)
10. Gault Street from Canoga Avenue to Topanga Canyon Boulevard; Topanga Canyon from Gault to Vanowen Street; Vanowen from Topanga Canyon to Canoga Avenue; A line following the railroad tracks from Canoga to De Soto Avenue; De Soto from Victory Boulevard to Vanowen Street; Vanowen from De Soto to Mason Avenue; Mason from Vanowen to the Los Angeles River; south of the Los Angeles River from Mason to De Soto Avenue; De Soto from south of the Los Angeles River to Hart Street; Hart from De Soto to Canoga Avenue; Canoga from Hart to Gault Street. (17.5 curb miles)
11. Saticoy Street from Lindley Avenue to Wilbur Avenue; Reseda Boulevard from Saticoy to Sherman Way; Sherman Way from Corbin Avenue to Lindley Avenue; Lindley from Sherman Way to Saticoy Street. (14 curb miles)
12. Saticoy Street from De Soto Avenue to Canoga Avenue; Canoga from Saticoy to Hart Street; Hart from Canoga to De Soto Avenue; De Soto from Hart to Roscoe Boulevard. (17.4 curb miles)
13. Victory Boulevard from Lindley Avenue to Wilbur Avenue; Wilbur from Victory to Oxnard Street; Oxnard from Wilbur to Lindley Avenue; Lindley from Oxnard to Victory Boulevard. (15.2 curb miles)
14. Saticoy Street from Winnetka Avenue to De Soto Avenue; De Soto from Saticoy to Sherman Way; Sherman Way from De Soto to Winnetka Avenue; Winnetka from Sherman Way to Saticoy Street. (17.4 curb miles)
15. Sherman Way from Louise Avenue to Lindley Avenue; Lindley from Sherman Way to Vanowen Street; Vanowen from Lindley to Louise Avenue; Louise from Vanowen to Sherman Way. (15.2 curb miles)
16. Nordhoff Street from Woodman Avenue to Van Nuys Boulevard; Van Nuys from Nordhoff to Chase Street; Chase from Van Nuys to Hazeltine Avenue; Hazeltine from Chase to Parthenia Street; Parthenia from Hazeltine to Woodman Avenue; Woodman from Parthenia to Nordhoff Street. (16.2 curb miles)
17. Tuxford Street from Glenoaks Boulevard to San Fernando Road; San Fernando from Tuxford to Sunland Boulevard; Sunland from San Fernando to Roscoe Boulevard; Roscoe from Sunland to Glenoaks Boulevard; Glenoaks from Roscoe to Tuxford Street. (16.4 curb miles)
18. Polk Street from Foothill Boulevard to Glenoaks Boulevard; Glenoaks from Polk to Hubbard Street; Hubbard from Glenoaks to Foothill Boulevard; Foothill from Hubbard to Polk Street. (16.4 curb miles)
19. Victory Boulevard from Hazeltine Avenue to Kester Avenue; Kester from Victory to Oxnard Street; Oxnard from Kester to Hazeltine Avenue; Hazeltine from Oxnard to Victory Boulevard. (8.9 curb miles)
20. Burbank Boulevard from Kester Avenue to Sepulveda Boulevard; Sepulveda from Burbank to Hesby Street; Hesby from Sepulveda to Kester Avenue; Kester from Hesby to Burbank Boulevard. (14.6 curb miles)