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Messy Dispute : Recycling: Neighbors and city are unable to deter West Los Angeles collectors from piling trash on their property.

August 03, 1995|KELLY DAVID | TIMES STAFF WRITER

On most days, the West Los Angeles home of Leslie and Georgette Earle looks like any other on their well-kept residential street.

Only a cluster of grocery shopping carts, barely hidden in the front yard by a few plywood boards, intimates a way of life that has made the house the bane of their neighborhood.

By nightfall, the lawn at 2055 Parnell Ave. is strewn with an assortment of bottles, cans, newspapers and plastic bags. The constant clatter of glass resonates for a block or more as Georgette Earle and daughter Diane sort the recyclables until dawn.

The numerous piles of rubbish are scavenged from local garbage cans and city recycling bins. The Earles, who declined to be interviewed for this story, use the grocery carts to haul the trash to their home, where an independent contractor stops by once a week to purchase the used glass, plastic, aluminum and newspaper.

But they simply hoard most of the trash, said Dennis Bogard, a Los Angeles hazardous refuse abatement coordinator who cleared the yard in December because it had become a fire hazard.

It took Bogard and four other workers five days to clear the Earles' garage, which was packed from floor to ceiling with rubbish, and to clean up the back yard, which was stacked 10 feet high with bottles and newspapers dating back a decade. The trash had become the home of scores of cockroaches and at least one dead rat. The city workers hauled several tons of refuse from the Earles' home and charged the family $3,340 for the cleanup.

But despite warnings and citations from the city Department of Building and Safety, the residence is quickly filling up again with trash, according to neighbors who, angry that city officials have not stopped the potential health hazard, have banded together to find a way to have deal with the problem.

"Our patience has gone to the nth degree in trying to help the Earles," said Jim Forsher, who lives a block away from the family. "But in the past couple of years, it has gone from difficult to impossible."

Just last month, the building and safety department cited the Earles for not maintaining the property and for an unapproved use of the land, which could subject them to up to $2,000 in fines and a year in jail.

Neighbors say they have tolerated the Earles' garbage-collecting habit for more than 20 years, but that in the past 12 months the family has moved its recycling operation to the front yard, loudly sorting through the rubbish during the night and harassing those who complain.

Officer Don Thompson at the West Los Angeles substation said police take extra precautions when they respond to a complaint about the family, such as asking a supervisor to accompany them to witness the discussion. "It is a very volatile situation with that family," he said.

Though taking items from city recycling bins, removing shopping carts without permission and making excessive noise after hours are all violations of the law, Thompson said that charging the Earles would require the police to catch them in the act or establish the decibel level of the rattling glass to determine if it violates the city's noise ordinance. Stolen shopping carts have become so common in Los Angeles, he said, that police do not aggressively ticket offenders.

City inspectors say they have been trying to coax the Earles into giving up collecting garbage for more than a year.

Deputy City Atty. Susan Schmitter said the city is investigating the most recent complaints against the Earles. And the family eventually could be charged with additional violations of fire, safety and health codes, said Ted Marko, a building and safety department inspector.

Bogard, who monitors about 500 Los Angeles households known for hoarding, said it is unlikely that fines or jail time would deter the Earles from squirreling away odds and ends. Their home has been designated one of the city's 30 trash-hoarding "hot spots."

"They are going to fill up again," he said. "Collecting is a disease. They consider that their bank, so they are going to keep making deposits."

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