Trash and frustration increase in North Hollywood neighborhood

At first, Marc Handler ignored the pickup trucks loaded with scrap metal, machine components and other junk parked on the street outside his North Hollywood home. He hoped they would simply go away.

But the number of trucks only increased, from three to as many as 15. Sometimes the clanging and banging would stir Handler from his sleep in the wee hours.

“I feel that I am now living in a blighted area full of smashed-up vehicles and piles of scrap metal and junk — an industrial area of workmen and industrial materials, not a neighborhood,” said Handler, who lives in a house he bought from his grandparents 20 years ago. “This is in my face every day.”

The situation has pitted neighbor against neighbor. Some argue that the scrap haulers are turning the area into a dump; others insist that they are just trying to make a living during tough economic times — and do the community a service.

“I feel terrible if my truck’s a mess, but when I have a mountain of mess on my truck, that’s a mountain of money for me,” said Mike Sroupe, owner of Scrap Happy. “I don’t want to be an eyesore, but I have to make a living. I’m an honest person, doing an honest job.”

That’s little consolation to Handler, who has complained to several Los Angeles agencies, including officials in parking enforcement and street services, building and safety, housing, the city attorney’s office and his local councilman. So far, he said he has had no luck.

Handler said the junk trucks are unsafe and bring waste and potentially hazardous materials into a residential neighborhood. The scrappers cause a disturbance when they load and unload trucks. Handler questions why they distribute business cards if they claim not to be operating a business.

But what irks Handler and others most is their belief that their concerns are being ignored because the neighborhood is predominantly working-class.

“If this were Brentwood, Encino or Sherman Oaks, it wouldn’t be allowed,” Handler said.

Sean Anderson, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Transportation, acknowledged that the Bureau of Parking and Enforcement and Traffic Control had received complaints “about pickup trucks with scrap metal, junk and recycled items intended for sale parked on city streets.”

He provided a list of citations that had been issued in Handler’s neighborhood over the last year for violations such as parking a trailer or commercial vehicle in a residential area, or using the street for the storage of vehicles.

Cora Jackson-Fossett, a spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Public Works, said parking vehicles loaded with trash did not violate any ordinance enforced by the Bureau of Street Services.

Jeremy Oberstein, a spokesman for the office of Councilman Paul Krekorian, whose district covers North Hollywood, said Krekorian was “very aware” of the dispute regarding scrap haulers, and was working with the opposing parties and city agencies to resolve the situation. For now, however, “no legal action” could be taken, Oberstein said.

That leaves residents such as Maria Chicas to simply put up with the problem.

On one recent morning, Chicas found herself parked behind a scrap truck piled high with metal chair frames, canisters and a wheelbarrow sitting at the curb in front of her duplex.

“I don’t like it,” Chicas said. “But I didn’t know I could complain.”

Often, neighbors drop off junk at the scrappers’ homes or dump it curbside for collection and transportation to a recycling yard.

“There are a lot of people who are out of work who need some sort of finances coming in,” said Sean Finnegan, who has been collecting junk since 2005 and operates a truck he calls the Mean Green Econo Machine. “We do a lot of good. And most of the time, there are no complaints about it.”

“It doesn’t bother me what it looks like,” said Victor Bautista, 32, of Finnegan’s trash load that is often parked at the curb outside his home. “As long as it doesn’t sit in front of my driveway and isn’t blocking me in.”

But for Handler, the issue goes beyond neighborhood aesthetics.

“The question is not, how many people like having trash trucks in the neighborhood,” Handler said. “The question is, is this illegal?”