Despite opposition by lawmakers from South Los Angeles, the City Council voted Tuesday to implement a citywide police patrol program to target thieves who pilfer newspapers and other recyclables from residential curbside recycling bins.
The program will be modeled after a six-month pilot program that was recently completed in the west San Fernando Valley and was credited with saving the city thousands of dollars in recycling revenue.
The council voted 10 to 3 to use $600,000 in state grants and revenue from the city recycling program to pay police and reserve officers to work overtime, patrolling at night and early in the morning for recycling scavengers.
But Councilman Mike Hernandez and other lawmakers representing parts of South Los Angeles objected to the program, saying police should concentrate on more serious crimes instead of arresting people who are "just trying to make a few dollars."
Council members Laura Chick and Ruth Galanter, among others, said scavenging generates dozens of complaints weekly and drains the city of about $2 million annually in revenue from the city's curbside recycling program.
They noted that the program will not take police away from regular patrols but pays them to work overtime. They also said that the police will target organized scavengers who work regular hours and cart away tons of recyclables in trucks and vans. It will not arrest the homeless or people who are collecting newspapers in shopping carts, they said.
Stealing from the recycling bins is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500 and six months in jail.
"Everybody is sympathetic to the guy with the shopping cart, but its the guy with the truck who is making all the real money," Galanter said.
In March, 1994, the city collected more than 4,500 tons of newspapers from the 720,000 residents participating in the recycling program. That amount has declined to just over 1,500 tons per month in August, a drop city recycling officials attribute mostly to scavengers.
Chick, who helped spearhead the pilot program in the West Valley, said she fears many residents participating in the recycling program may stop taking part if the city does not take action against scavengers.
"Please do not let this deter you from participating in the recycling program," she told the crowd.
The increase in scavenging has been fueled by a huge jump in the price of newsprint. In contrast to two or three years ago, when municipalities had to pay waste-disposal companies to haul away old newspapers, recycling firms now pay up to $100 a ton.
The higher price for newsprint is due in large part to greater worldwide demand, state and federal initiatives to use more recycled paper and the wood products industry's increasing use of newsprint to make such products as corrugated cardboard.
Bill Jasper, president of the Encino Property Owners Assn., told the council that his community has been "completely plagued by scavengers."
Another Valley resident, Marsha Roseman, said she fears that scavengers who rummage through recycling bins at night may also be casing nearby homes in preparation for a burglary.
She suggested a "no-cost option": Have residents take photographs of scavengers and turn the film over to police.
In a related action, the council called for a study on whether it is feasible to replace the current recycling bins with containers that can be locked to keep scavengers out.
But some council members questioned whether that would solve the problem.
"Frankly, I don't know how we are going to deal with this," said Councilman Hal Bernson, who represents parts of the northwest Valley. "They will just take the bins."