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L.A. trash agency ordered to clear backlog of illegal dumping complaints

Residents in Northeast, Central and South Los Angeles received worse service for illegal dumping pickup than other parts of the city, a Times analysis found.

The Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation is being ordered to clear a backlog of tens of thousands of outstanding requests dating back to 2010 to clean up illegally dumped trash.

Sanitation officials also will be instructed to immediately provide an explanation for any disparities in service between neighborhoods, according to a spokeswoman for Mayor Eric Garcetti.

The mayoral directives follow an internal investigation by Garcetti’s office into service at the city sanitation agency.

The inquiry was prompted by a Times report this month that found clean up of illegal dumping in many poor areas of L.A. lagged behind more affluent neighborhoods. Those disparities persisted even as Garcetti devoted new attention and money to clearing refuse from sidewalks and alleyways.

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“Fair and timely delivery of basic services - for all Angelenos - is how we measure our success,” Garcetti said in a statement. “Even the suggestion of inequity needs to be addressed swiftly.”

The Times found that since 2010, more than one-third of logged requests to remove refuse from neighborhoods in central, northeast and South L.A. were left open — meaning no cleanup was ever recorded. Sanitation workers closed 99% of the complaints in other parts of the city.

Garcetti’s office is directing the agency to publish data on response times and the amount of waste removed from sidewalks and alleys on the city’s website. Garcetti also wants sanitation officials to work with the city’s Information Technology Agency to improve its service tracking system.

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The internal investigation found that 84% of roughly 8,000 tons of trash removed in the fiscal year that ended in July came from City Council districts in central, northeast and South L.A.

As part of the review, the sanitation agency visited roughly 6,000 locations where dumping was reported last year and found half were still dirty.

Seven City Council members submitted motions in recent weeks that cited The Times’ reporting and demanded answers from the sanitation department on the disparities in service. The motions will go before a council committee Wednesday.

Overall response rates have improved since Garcetti took office in 2013. But Angelenos continue to see significant differences in service depending on where they live. For example, residents in Boyle Heights on the Eastside were still waiting for responses to 30% of the cleanup requests made since Garcetti took office. Over the same period, only 1% of complaints remained open in Van Nuys, in the San Fernando Valley, which had an equivalent number of service requests.

Sanitation officials have said their response time records are flawed because of a botched rollout last year of a new computer program intended to track service requests. They suggested some service requests were handled properly and just not recorded in the system. 

Budget cuts during the recession contributed to the problems, they added, and haven’t been fully restored. Public Works Board President Kevin James said this year that it would take a budget of at least $25 million annually to keep streets clear of illegally dumped trash. Garcetti and the City Council gave the bureau a $9-million budget for illegal dumping this year.

ben.poston@latimes.com

peter.jamison@latimes.com

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