Jim Gant still fumes about the stinking pile of garbage that stayed on the street in front of his West Hollywood home for two weeks last month.
"You can live with something like that for two or three extra days, but two weeks?" asked Gant, who persuaded the city to haul it away after the private company responsible for his garbage collection failed to do so.
Across town, Gary Wolper offers another version of West Hollywood's all-too-familiar garbage blues.
"For two years, I've had (garbage) trucks clanging up the alley behind my house at 4, 5 and 6 in the morning, jarring me awake five days a week," he said. "A lot of times, it sounds like they're gonna come straight through the wall."
City officials have heard it before.
And while residents complain that there are too many garbage trucks trundling along West Hollywood's streets and alleys, contributing to traffic snarls and generating noise at all hours, officials say it isn't without reason.
In a city of just 1.9 square miles, at least 22 companies have a piece of the waste-disposal business, often leap-frogging each other on the same block.
"And those are just the legal ones," said City Manager Paul Brotzman, who estimates another half-dozen "pirate" companies--most of them single-truck operators--also do business there.
The system, which officials acknowledge is a confused mess, is a remnant of the more loosely regulated days before West Hollywood became a city in 1984, when it was still an unincorporated part of Los Angeles County.
Although the County Board of Supervisors last month voted to dissolve the arrangement that gives the county jurisdiction over the haulers and award West Hollywood control over its own refuse, city officials caution that it may take a while to improve the system.
State law requires that haulers with legal permits who have been doing business in the city for at least three years be given up to five years to phase out their operations.
'Badly Needed Order'
"The (five-year) notifications went out last week," Public Works Director Chuck Bergson said.
The city plans to continue using private haulers, but with permits regulated by the city.
"What we want to do is introduce some badly needed order into the system," he said. "You can't do that when you've got a zillion garbage companies doing business in an area this small, and you don't have any control over what they're doing."
Last week, the City Council approved a tough new ordinance governing garbage collection to take effect when the arrangement with the county expires on June 30.
Citing the proliferation of trash collectors as having created noise, traffic problems and chaos, the ordinance sets out strict rules as to how and how often trash may be picked up.
It requires haulers to maintain an office accessible by phone six days a week, and to keep careful logs of all complaints, which city officials think will reduce problems, such as those experienced by Gant.
The ordinance also requires that garbage trucks be equipped with a broom and shovel at all times to clean up spills and outlaws the use of vehicles more than 4 years old unless specifically exempted.
Under the county arrangement, a single company is under contract to pick up trash from residential customers using garbage containers of 45 gallons or less. But there are no restrictions on the number of independent companies permitted to haul garbage placed in commercial bins.
The system left landlords and businesses responsible for arranging their own garbage pickups with whichever company they chose. Meanwhile, landlords' taxes continue to help pay for the service provided to residential customers using the smaller containers. That cost is passed on to apartment dwellers, who have, in effect, helped to pay for a service they do not use.
Annual Service Fee
Once it assumes control, the city plans to impose an annual service fee on property owners to pay for collection and disposal, with the amount to be decided by the City Council.
County officials, who say the existing policy was intended to foster competition, insist that the policy has worked well in unincorporated areas. But city officials say it has resulted in chaos in densely populated West Hollywood, where apartment buildings and businesses predominate.
As it is, city officials have no inkling as to when and where the independent haulers are operating on a given day.
Although a noise ordinance makes it illegal for haulers to pick up garbage between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., the law is often ignored. With companies not required to account for their daily schedules, officials say enforcement is next to impossible.
"All we get are the complaints," Bergson said. "And many times, the residents don't even know who their hauler is. If (the haulers) come too early, or leave trash in the street, it leaves us to do a lot of detective work. That's what we hope is going to change."