In the middle of an alley near the corner of Judd and Bradley streets in Pacoima, dozens of empty butane gas canisters form a trash pile with other refuse. Pieces of wood, metal, an assortment of garbage — even old tires are next to it.
Not far away, in the same alley, there’s an old discarded television. Farther down, on the next block, one can see mattresses.
Another alley near Pinney Street, just below Ralston Avenue, is worse off. Newspapers, food and rubbish of all kinds are right next to the entrance to an apartment complex. Ironically, there’s a trash bin just on the other side of the wall for the residents who live there. The smell is quite noticeable next to the garbage pile. Another block west on the same alley, one can find mattresses and furniture.
While the trash piles aren’t yet blocking these alleys — as they do in certain parts of South Los Angeles and other areas of the city — the reality is they’re an eyesore, a health hazard and an attraction for more trash.
“It seems people, when they see trash accumulating in one place, instead of making it better, they dump more stuff there,” said Jose Guerrero, who’s lived in the area since 1984 and has seen how his neighborhood slowly has become more and more dirty.
On Saturday, Sept. 26, Guerrero and several other Pacoima residents who are all members of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), took media on a “trash tour” of their neighborhood, which covers from Van Nuys Boulevard to Paxton Street, and Ralston Avenue to Herrick Street.
Trash piles are everywhere here, some bigger than others, and not only in alleys but on street corners as well. At the corner of Ralston Avenue and Pinney, a gardener cleans around one of these garbage promontories filled with pieces of carpet, mattresses and a television stand.
“It’s been there for more than four months. The other day, someone came to dump the carpet,” said Ana Mejia, a neighbor who lives next door.
“We’ve called the City (of Los Angeles), but they said they would wait until it got bigger before they came to pick it up,” Mejia added.
The lack of services in this area angers and frustrates residents.
Guerrero said street sweeping stopped several years ago, and their calls to the bulky item pick up line to report the trash piles get no response. The alleys are cleaned up once a year, and their complaints to the office of L.A. Councilmember Felipe Fuentes have not resulted in any improvements.
“They told us to get a petition. They have the resources. Why not just take care of the areas that are rundown?” asked Christian Robinson, who lives on Judd Street and was also part of the “tour.”
He said trash services began to deteriorate about 10 years ago, after Los Angeles City workers fixed sidewalks in the area and made them wheelchair accessible.
“It’s a danger and an eyesore for the community,” Robinson noted. “We pay taxes, we deserve a little bit more.”
Who Is Trashing Pacoima
Part of the problem, residents admit, is that some people simply neglect to call for bulky item pick-up and just leave things to accumulate. But there’s also the issue of those who come from other parts of the city and dump things in the alleys where lighting is poor and they’re deserted at night, instead of paying to take them to a landfill.
“You have people who move and whatever they don’t want, they just come and dump it here,” Robinson said.
But residents have also questioned whether this neighborhood is getting adequate services compared to other more affluent areas of the city.
These same allegations were recently made by residents of other low income areas of the city, especially after the Los Angeles Times reported in August that since 2010, cleanups for more than one-third of logged requests to remove trash from central, northeast and south Los Angeles neighborhoods were never recorded by sanitation officials.
Essentially, cleanups of illegal dumping in poor neighborhoods have lagged behind those in more affluent areas.
After the findings were made public, Mayor Eric Garcetti ordered the Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation to clear a backlog of tens of thousands of outstanding requests dating back to 2010 to clean up illegally dumped trash.
Sanitation officials have attributed flaws in their response time records to a botched computer program system introduced last year.
ACCE, the group helping to organize Pacoima residents, issued a number of demands including the cleanup of all alleys in the area, the hiring of street services investigators to patrol alleys, better lighting in the alleys and free, monthly bulky item pickup for this area, as well as renewed street sweeping.
Robinson said the City could even create jobs as a solution. He suggests paying residents to do the cleanups themselves, and provide a site to go and dump the trash.
“It doesn’t take much money to clean something up,” he said.
Fuentes concurs with the residents.
“It’s clear the City of Los Angeles has a huge illegal dumping problem,” Fuentes said. “Most recently, the issue was highlighted by several newspaper publications. If you look at the numbers presented by L.A .Sanitation, Council District Seven has amongst the quickest response times and the least amount of cases open with the department. However, this is still unacceptable and because I am not satisfied my staff conducts weekly clean ups, cruising various neighborhoods for illegally dumped goods.
“Additionally, the City has increased the budget for contracts, so I have enlisted the help of Northeast Graffiti Busters, Sylmar Graffiti Busters and the Los Angeles Conservation Corps. The areas in question are chronic dump sites and are visited by LA Sanitation weekly,” Fuentes said.
“Tackling this challenge isn’t easy, it’s an effort which necessitates educating our community members of properly disposing bulky items,” the council member noted.