How's (the Trash) Business in L.A.? Picking Up

03/18/2015 02:37 am ET | Updated May 17, 2015

Today, we're talking garbage. That title is a riff on the punch line of a Borscht Belt joke about a rags bottles man (junk collector). But trash in L.A. is no laughing matter. In fact, it's so serious that a team led by City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana has prepared a report entitled "Improving Livability in Los Angeles." According to the L.A. Times, the report follows an internal administration memo that "warned that the city's international image is threatened by the proliferation of litter, abandoned furniture, illegal dumping and homeless encampments."

The report goes on to recommend "the development of a "cleanliness rating index" for local streets, an education program targeting potential litterbugs and a more proactive approach to the issue overall."

Who doesn't like these ideas and agree with the city's focus on basic city services?

In areas like Koreatown and South L.A., it's not hyperbole to say that more frequent trash pickup and more garbage bins on the street would be cause for celebration.

At MyLA 311, an excellent city resource that lets residents call in or complete an online bulky item pickup, I am known as the Couch of the Week guy. That's because barely a week goes by that I don't log on to request pick up of a couch or mattress dumped on the sidewalk across from my building.

One of Mr. Santana's team's recommendations is that L.A.'s Office of Community Beautification assign nonprofit groups to go into neighborhoods to identify illegal dumping of furniture and the like. That's a great idea that might even find corporate or philanthropic support from some of the foundations committed to the new urbanism that is sweeping Los Angeles. Groups like Koreatown Youth + Community Center (KYCC) have long done great beautification work planting trees throughout Koreatown and Mid- City. They are a natural partner for identifying areas where illegal dumping is taking place.

Perhaps if mail carriers, meter readers, police, building inspectors, shopkeepers and average citizens were encouraged to use MYLA 311 in a crowd sourcing sort of way to report filthy locations, that data could be mapped and resources could be targeted at the most severe problem areas.

Here are some other ideas:

Work with code enforcement to make lot owners aware of their obligations regarding their property. Near my building in Koreatown there are a dozen or more lots where the owners appear indifferent to illegal dumping on the site while they wait for their building permits. As the construction process may take months or years, neighbors have to endure the illegal dumping which has the inevitable effect of attracting further dumping.

Or, as I wrote last year in a piece on my neighborhood:

"And god forbid the absentee landlords who own the landmark rent stabilized apartment building across the street at San Marino Street and Serrano Avenue decide to illegally demolish the property. Let's just say they did, because they did. Now, on top of the regular piles of trash that accumulate nightly next to many of the cars parked along the street, we've got a broken window that would make George Kelling and James Q. Wilson proud."

What else might we do?

Work with L.A. Metro to do a better job keeping bus stops clean. The absence of garbage cans elsewhere on the street means Metro's bins fill up much sooner than the contractor arrives to empty them. Some bins appear to sit overflowing for several days which makes walking past no fun, especially when the Santa Ana's blow in.

Ditto LAUSD, which does a good job keeping its properties clean but doesn't seem to share the communitarian value that the school community extends beyond the chain link fence. One of my proudest moments was when I overheard a student on the playground at Hobart Elementary tell another kid who asked what I was doing, that "he is picking up garbage because he cares about the environment."

Maybe the gang members that tag our buildings, streets signs, sidewalks and trees can help with the cleanup as well.

L.A.'s new administration is all about data driven improvements to city services. Now that so many residents are ready for a new approach to dirty sidewalks, abandoned lots and streets, with a good outreach program, the public will become the eyes on the street documenting problem areas.

Thank you Mr. Santana!

Yours in transit,