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L.A. officials have a tool to track the city's filthiest streets. Now it's time to clean things up

L.A. officials have a tool to track the city's filthiest streets. Now it's time to clean things up
Illegal dumping is a problem in many areas of Los Angeles, including here along Azuza St. at S. Mission Rd. (Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles officials have, for the first time, rated city streets based on their cleanliness, and the results confirm what residents in many neighborhoods already understood: Too many L.A. streets are a mess. Here's what residents really want to know: Will the grades lead the city to do a better job removing the litter, weeds and dumped refuse in their neighborhoods?

Mayor Eric Garcetti budgeted nearly $10 million last year for a campaign to clean up the streets. For months sanitation workers drove the city's 40,000 streets and alleys to assess the amount of trash on each block and assign a rank — clean, somewhat clean or not clean. About 40% of the roadways were cluttered with junk, litter or weeds, and of those 4% were deemed "not clean" and in need of immediate cleanup. While more than half of the worst blocks were in Central, East and South L.A., the assessment also found scattered problems throughout the city.

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The results have been plugged into the new "CleanStat" system, which is a publicly available data-driven map modeled on the Compstat program the Police Department uses to evaluate and respond to crime trends. Workers are supposed re-grade each block every three months, allowing the public to track whether the streets are getting less messy.

CleanStat will be a useful tool for communities to measure the condition of their streets against others in the city. Last year The Times reported that more than one-third of requests to remove refuse from neighborhoods in Central, Northeast and South L.A. were ignored even as workers responded to 99% of requests in other parts of the city. With grades in hand, residents in poorly serviced neighborhoods will be in a stronger position to advocate for regular street sweeping, faster removal of junk left on the curb and better enforcement on illegal dumping hot spots.

But if CleanStat works well, residents shouldn't have to be continually demanding basic services; the city should be using the data to focus its resources in the areas with the greatest need. Until now, the Bureau of Sanitation has been reactive, sending out clean-up crews when people requested service. The agency hasn't kept track of those calls in order to understand the trash-dumping trends or identify the garbage cans that overflow most frequently. CleanStat will compile that information so Garcetti and the City Council can make sure city departments spend more time and money in the dirtiest areas of the city, where litter begets more litter and illegal dump sites only beget more illegal dumping.

Perhaps most important, CleanStat establishes the city's first measurable standards for what L.A.'s streets should look like. Now it's up to city officials and the Bureau of Sanitation to use the data they're finally gathering to deliver better results all across town. Keeping only 60% of the blocks clean is a failing grade.

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