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Many L.A. roads go more than a year without being cleaned. Here’s why

Many L.A. roads go more than a year without being cleaned. Here’s why
Streets that prohibit on-street parking during street sweeping are cleaned regularly, but the remaining two-thirds of city routes are cleaned as infrequent as once a year, auditors said Wednesday. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

While weekly street sweeping is a way of life on one-third of Los Angeles streets, to the chagrin of residents chasing scarce parking, the rest of the city’s roads can go a year or more without being cleaned, according to a city controller audit released Wednesday.

The city’s lumbering yellow vehicles sweep the same 34% of streets every week — routes that are identified through signs that prohibit on-street parking during street-sweeping hours, the audit found.

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The remaining ones are swept when employees get to them — “sometimes, less than once a year” — or when someone complains, Controller Ron Galperin wrote. In other cases, he said in an interview, streets are swept only if an employee has enough time, or space for more debris in the sweeping vehicle.

“Sometimes, the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” Galperin said. The Bureau of Street Services’ approach to sweeping the majority of city streets “was not at all clear,” he said.

The Bureau of Street Services should work to rewrite its policies so that streets are swept only when they need attention, Galperin said. A thorough analysis of sweeping routes and debris levels on city streets could eventually save the department money and time, he said.

Street sweeping, which keeps debris and trash from entering the stormwater drainage system, is necessary on some streets every week, Galperin said. Others may need less attention.

“There may be some folks who will miss seeing their street cleaned every week,” Galperin said. “But in a world of not unlimited resources, you have to choose wisely where you’re going to invest your money.”

In Los Angeles, the streets that are regularly swept are distributed unevenly. About 36% of streets south of the 10 Freeway are swept weekly, while just 14% of streets in the west San Fernando Valley are, the audit said.

Los Angeles’ street-sweeping policy makes the city an outlier among its peers. Auditors studied nine other cities, including Houston, Denver and Phoenix, and found that eight regularly scheduled all city streets for sweeping.

The department should also focus on collecting more data and building digital maps of sweeping routes to better inform their decisions about which streets need attention, Galperin said.

Last spring, the city installed GPS trackers on 100 street-sweeping vehicles. The department should also consider investing in digital signs that could be changed to warn drivers when a street will be swept. Such signs would provide more flexibility for the department, Galperin said.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Public Works, which includes the Bureau of Street Services, said officials agreed with the majority of Galperin’s findings.

The report “validates our need for additional resources,” spokeswoman Elena Stern said. She said the department is “eager” to begin a comprehensive study of street sweeping, but that the analysis “will require significant investment.”

Since the Great Recession, the department — and particularly the street-sweeping program — have seen a dramatic drop in staff, the audit found. The number of bureau employees fell from 263 to 111 over a decade, a decrease of 58%.

“There are a lot of departments that got cut back, but in many ways, staffing for this particular function of the Bureau of Street Services was devastated,” Galperin said.

During the last two fiscal years, the bureau requested 20 additional positions in an attempt to hire more street sweepers and clean some streets more often, Stern said. Neither request was approved by the City Council.

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