CityWatch, May 18, 2012
Vol 10 Issue 40
RETHINKING LA - The Pastor of a local church arrived at his office to find a large pile of debris on the sidewalk next to his church property. It consisted of some furniture, some busted boxes of personal belongings, some trash, the kind of debris that is typically left behind when somebody moves.
The Pastor called 311 and then sent an email with a picture of the illegal dumping to some neighbors and to the City Councilman asking “What are people thinking?”
The answer is simple. They are thinking “If I carry my trash across the street, I won’t get charged for the pickup of the bulky items.”
In other words, people dump their junk on our quiet street because it works.
The Senior Lead Officer responded by sending an email saying “One idea would be is to contact the Department of Sanitation and have them remove the trash. I will put in a request for you but in the future you can contact 311 and place a request for a cleanup. Another idea, if you are interested, is to organize your neighbors and do a cleanup day in your neighborhood. I can contact operation clean sweep and request cleaning supplies. If you have further questions please feel free to call me.”
The problem with this advice is that it rewards the person dumping the trash by removing it without an investigation, and makes it the neighbor’s responsibility to do the dirty work. In other words, it works.
The Council Office responded by sending an email (two days after the illegal dumping) “I have sent this to our beautification crew and have requested that they go out today and remove the items. In the future, please send it directly to me as well so that I can forward it on to the appropriate beautification staff depending on the day.”
This solution is equivalent to wiping the blood off the wound. It doesn’t stop the problem it simply cleans it up for a few moments. Again, for the person dumping, it works.
The Department of Sanitation responded by sending a crew that picked up the bulky items, leaving behind the broken glass and small debris that would require a broom or a shovel and a little more attention.
This solution is paid for by the “Multi-Family Bulky Item Fee” that is charged to all residents of apartments with 5 or more units per building on a monthly basis on their utility bill. In other words, two-thirds of the city pays for bulky item pickup while the other third pays if they call for a pickup. This is what motivates people to carry their trash across the street and to dump it in front of apartment buildings or in this case, a church.
The Bureau of Sanitation responded to the 311 call by sending a truck and picking up the larger items, leaving behind small bits of debris that included the ID card for the person who ended up confessing to the illegal dumping.
This solution keeps the Department of Sanitation busy cleaning our streets but it does nothing to stop those who do the dumping. In fact it does the opposite because it sends a loud message that “Illegal dumping works!”
The Bureau of Street Services is responsible for investigating illegal dumping but they don’t get notified when a resident calls 311 unless the party calling knows that Sanitation cleans while Street Services investigates. (Even our Senior Lead Officer didn’t know this!)
The person who dumped the trash on the sidewalk outside the church left several items in the trash that contained their name and address. (Across the street!) They left packaging from recent Amazon purchases and their final examinations from Law School. These items were given to the investigator from Street Services who took another look and found the ID card.
Meanwhile the Senior Lead Officer is convinced that no crime had been committed because the person who did the dumping says they called 311 for a pickup. The SLO was happy with the explanation, missing the “defrauding the city” and “illegal dumping” possibilities along with the trash that remained on the street.
The City of LA has Neighborhood Prosecutors who respond to quality of life issues, they simply need the cooperation of the LAPD. The LAPD has Senior Lead Officers but if they are limited to suggesting that residents do a better job of cleaning their streets, there is little hope that the Neighborhood Prosecutor will get LAPD support.
Sanitation cleans up big and bulky things but is not so good at the detail work. Meanwhile Street Services investigates illegal dumping and could balance the city’s budget crisis just by tracing the trash before it gets picked up and charging the offending parties the appropriate penalties.
As for Hollywood, it is your dumping ground. Your trash will be blamed on the renters, the Council Office will send the Beautification Team, the illegal dumping will get picked up for free, and the Senior Lead Officer will come around to suggest that the locals sweep the street up after you.
Seriously, illegal dumping takes place in Hollywood because it works!
(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net. You can also find him on Twitter and on Facebook.)