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Illegal trash spurs mayor to act

Villaraigosa wants to know why debris -- including dead animals -- sits for weeks in some neighborhoods.

June 17, 2008|Robert J. Lopez | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa ordered a comprehensive report Monday to find out why illegally dumped refuse has been allowed to sit for weeks in alleys in some of the city's poorest neighborhoods.

"The mayor's view is that people should not have to wait for weeks to have trash picked up," said Gil Duran, a spokesman for Villaraigosa, who was traveling in Israel.

Documenting the conditions in photographs and videos, The Times reported Monday that refuse -- including dead animals -- festered for weeks in some South Los Angeles alleys. At the same time, arrests for illegal dumping by investigators with the Department of Public Works, which is responsible for maintaining alleys, dropped from 359 in 2002 to just three so far this year. The officials blamed budget cuts for their inability to crack down on violators.

Duran said the mayor's office has asked public works officials to detail how long it takes for refuse to be cleaned after residents call the city's 311 non-emergency number. The report will also examine how crews are deployed to clean refuse and what can be done to increase the number of arrests for illegal dumping.

"The mayor's view is that illegal dumping and blight in neighborhoods has a corrosive affect on the quality of life and is a public safety and health issue," Duran said.

Half the refuse dumped annually in the city occurs in South Los Angeles, but that area has accounted for only about a third of the arrests made in the last six years by public works investigators, records and interviews show.

"We're not arresting anybody," said Councilwoman Janice Hahn, who represents Watts, where alleys are frequently illegal dumping sites. "We need some sting operations."

Hahn and Councilwoman Jan Perry, whose district has the heaviest amount of illegally dumped trash, said they believed that more enforcement operations need to be targeted in their areas.

"I'd be completely and absolutely supportive of . . . more aggressive enforcement," Perry said.

Gary Harris, who oversees enforcement for the Public Works Department, said that his investigators try to spread limited resources evenly in all council districts where illegal dumping occurs.

But Harris said Monday that the city has applied for a $500,000 state grant to set up a special enforcement zone in South L.A. The funds would pay for prosecutors, additional cleanup and overtime for his investigators to stake out problem alleys, Harris said.

He said that budget cutbacks, in part, have resulted in a 40% reduction in surveillance operations in the last two years.

Perry said Monday that her office was planning to fund cleanup operations from a separate $500,000 grant from the city's Community Redevelopment Agency.

Perry said residents have to be more vigilant in reporting illegal dumping. "They have to be aggressive and assertive to get the system working for them," Perry said.

Both she and Hahn said they urge constituents to call their offices directly, rather than rely on the city's non-emergency number. Perry's council office can be reached at (213) 473-7009.

Hahn's council office number is (213) 473-7015.

"We need to let people know that dumping will not be tolerated in our neighborhoods," Hahn said.

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robert.lopez@latimes.com

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