Major overhaul of L.A.'s efforts to fight illegal dumping is proposed

Trash sits on Beacon Avenue in the Pico-Union district. City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana recommended an overhaul of the city's tactics to control illegal dumping.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles city agencies should conduct a sweeping overhaul of the way they combat illegal dumping on streets and in neighborhoods, by adding thousands of trash cans, assigning teams to report abandoned furniture and relying more on data to identify the hardest hit areas, a high-level official said Tuesday.

In a 47-page report, a team led by City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana recommended the development of a “cleanliness rating index” for streets, an education program targeting litterbugs and a more proactive approach to the issue overall.

Santana suggested the city’s Office of Community Beautification assign nonprofit groups to identify places where mattresses and other items have been dumped, a strategy similar to the one used for policing graffiti.

“Right now, we rely on a complaint-driven system where citizens or council offices essentially call in” to report illegal dumping, he said. “But if no one calls to pick up an abandoned couch, the couch could stay there months at a time.”

Tuesday’s report, titled “Improving Livability in Los Angeles,” comes six months after Santana’s office prepared an internal memo warning that the city’s international image is threatened by the proliferation of litter, abandoned furniture, illegal dumping and homeless encampments. Irresponsible behavior, coupled with a lack of enforcement, had led to a “constant state of uncleanliness” on streets, sidewalks and alleys in certain parts of the city, the memo said.


Santana’s report, which will be presented to the City Council on Wednesday, contains a series of recommendations from a working group to develop better strategies for tackling trash. They include:

• Development of a rating system to measure street cleanliness, similar to those found in cities such as New York, San Francisco and Philadelphia. Under the program, each street would receive a score based on the amount of trash and debris on sidewalks and in gutters.

• Triple the number of city trash cans placed on sidewalks in areas with heavy pedestrian activity. Los Angeles manages about 1,000 trash bins, compared with 4,800 in Washington, D.C. and 25,000 in New York, according to Tuesday’s report.

• Greater enforcement of illegal dumping laws.

• Modernization of the city’s street-sweeping program, which cleans a smaller share of streets than comparable cities. That operation, developed decades ago, does not take into account the places that generate the largest amounts of trash, according to the report.

Santana’s report gave little indication as to how much the recommended changes could cost. It also did not take on the issue of homeless encampments that have, in many cases, complicated the city’s effort to remove debris from sidewalks and alleys.

Councilman Curren Price, who represents the eastern part of South Los Angeles, said he would support the addition of trash cans on heavily trafficked streets such as Main Street, Broadway and Central Avenue. He also welcomed a greater reliance on data collection, saying it would show that neighborhoods in his district have a greater need than those in many other parts of the city.

“Our district has a lot of debris and bulky items that need picking up ... and we should be getting our share of those resources,” Price said.

Jeff Millman, a spokesman for Mayor Eric Garcetti, did not directly address the recommendations from Santana’s office, instead noting that the city has already budgeted $5 million for a new cleanup program to address homeless encampments and so-called “bulky items” on the street.

“Over the past year, Mayor Garcetti created new city teams to proactively clear the worst accumulations of trash from our neighborhoods, alleys, vacant lots and streets,” he said.

Santana said his team’s recommendations were prompted in part by Garcetti’s push to make neighborhood cleanliness a priority. One of the document’s major recommendations is to pursue a more data-driven approach to identifying neighborhoods with chronic dumping problems.

“We have to use the same model as the LAPD, where there’s a focus on addressing the neediest areas in a way that can be measured and actually effectively monitored,” Santana said.

Councilman Joe Buscaino, who heads the council’s Public Works Committee, said the report offers a road map on how to deal with trash in a more efficient manner.

“We need to rethink the way we address this problem,” said Buscaino, who represents neighborhoods stretching from San Pedro to Watts.

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