L.A. Fights Plague of Garbage in Central City Neighborhoods

Esmeralda Bermudez, Los Angeles Times, October 28, 2013

Jose Fernandez looked out his apartment window near MacArthur Park and admitted, in defeat, that he’s grown accustomed to the view:

Torn couches, dingy mattresses, broken dressers, dusty headboards.

The procession of rejected furniture piles high and wide on the sidewalk, compliments of neighbors and whoever else decides to dump and run.

“I’ve seen junk stay out there a week . . . sometimes a month,” the 24-year-old said. “Everyone walks by and stares. No one does anything about it.”

Hoping to put a stop to the rubbish, the city recently launched a $1-million cleanup effort aimed at Councilman Gil Cedillo‘s 1st District, including areas such as Lincoln Heights and Mount Washington. Much of the focus is on the immigrant-heavy neighborhoods of Westlake and Pico-Union just west of downtown.

The tiniest refuse—candy wrappers, grocery bags, fliers—spreads across gutters like confetti. Chairs, rugs and other larger pieces block the alleys and sidewalks in a smelly obstacle course that sometimes reaches 10 feet high.

Saturated with overcrowded apartments and tenants who pack their belongings and move with unusual frequency, the low-income area is notorious among trash collectors because of how tough it is to keep clean.


Backed by money from Cedillo’s general fund, sanitation workers and the Los Angeles Conservation Corps have flooded Westlake and Pico-Union in recent weeks—using trucks, rakes and trash bags to deep-clean the alleys that abut businesses and high-rise apartments. So far, more than 250 tons of trash has been removed, Garcia said.

Garbage is being collected five days a week, rather than on the once-a-week schedule the rest of the city has. Cedillo is working to establish an appointment service so residents can have bulky items carried right out of their homes rather than putting them on the curb.

Several solar-powered and laser-triggered trash compactors, costing close to $20,000 combined, have been placed around MacArthur Park—ground zero for litter.

“What we’re trying to do is change the culture of the place,” Cedillo said. “To keep people from setting their sofas and mattresses on sidewalks, to stop them from tossing their hot dog and burrito wrappers on the floor.”


Cedillo’s education campaign, expected to roll out in a few weeks, will target residents as well as property owners. There will be neighborhood meetings, fliers, street signs and billboards. Children at local schools will be encouraged to be more conscious of their waste.

The goal is to find out what causes the constant mountain of garbage, city officials said. Is it overcrowding, bad habits, public events, homelessness, not enough trash collection or some combination of factors?

“We’re going to have a full-on assault on trash and litter,” Cedillo said. “I don’t believe and accept that people think this is OK. If everybody plays their modest role, I know we can keep things clean.”



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