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City of Angels Becomes City of Trash. LA Breaks Promise to Crack Down Hard on Illegal Dumping

NBC Los Angeles logo NBC Los Angeles 5/7/2021 Joel Grover and Josh Davis
Cameras capture illegal dumping in Los Angeles. © Provided by NBC Los Angeles

Cameras capture illegal dumping in Los Angeles.

It was caught on camera by the NBC4 I-Team: a pickup truck enters a city alley in broad daylight, the driver illegally dumping box after box of garbage right on the ground.

The truck is back day after day, night after night, the driver dumping more bags and boxes of trash.

These are just a few examples of the illegal dumping that happens dozens, if not hundreds, of times every day all over LA, leaving some sidewalks so clogged with loose garbage that they are impassable.

"I feel ashamed for my city," said Estela Lopez, who represents business owners east of downtown Los Angeles, one of the areas hit hardest by illegal dumpers. "This is a city that’s out of control with illegal dumping."

The situation was already out of control two years ago when the NBC4 I-Team reported on some streets where rat-infested, illegally dumped trash covered entire blocks. In the wake of those reports, Mayor Eric Garcetti promised a citywide crackdown on illegal dumpers.

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"We will not tolerate businesses that use our public streets, spaces, or alleyways as their private dumping ground," the mayor said in June 2019.

Garcetti promised to install a network of surveillance cameras and to levy stiff fines for those caught illegally dumping trash. But two years later, LA has only 22 cameras to watch 470 square miles; that's fewer cameras than cities like Philadelphia, which has 100 cameras to cover a much smaller area.

To find out how easy it could be to catch illegal dumpers, the I-Team installed two cameras along a city alley east of downtown.

Within minutes, NBC4's cameras caught people throwing bags of trash onto the ground from the back of pickup trucks, from vans, sometimes showing up on foot with push carts of waste and tossing the garbage out.

Gonzalo Barriga, lead investigative officer for the Bureau of Sanitation, admits most illegal dumpers are "getting away with it."

And when they are caught, there is usually no financial penalty.

The I-Team examined 1,138 citations issued for illegal dumping in the last two years, and found the majority of people cited were just given a written warning with no fine. Those offenders who were penalized, often paid a fine of just $233 plus court fees.

"The city of Los Angeles is afraid to punish," said Estela Lopez. "The city wants to make things better through voluntary compliance, but that's not going to happen."

City officials tell the I-Team many, if not most, of the illegal dumpers are businesses trying to avoid the thousands of dollars a month it can cost to legally dispose of their waste.

"A business, an individual, or an entity decides that the cost of doing it the correct way was such a large amount, they were willing to take that chance to do an illegal dumping," said the Sanitation Bureau's Barriga.

"Until the city gets serious about this problem, people are just going to consider this the cost of doing business. And in fact, it’s even cheaper," said Lopez.

According to an audit done by LA City Controller Ron Galperin in March 2021, reports of illegal dumping have been skyrocketing, up 300% from 2017 to 2020.

The Sanitation Bureau says to catch the dumpers, it needs about six times more enforcement officers roaming the city, and it needs more surveillance cameras.

"I honestly feel that I wish I had an army of staff that could go out there and do this enforcement. I just don’t," said Barriga.

NBC4 reached out to Mayor Garcetti's office to comment on the worsening illegal dumping problem, in light of his promise two years ago to crackdown. The Mayor's office did not respond.

"I want this city to look clean again. It's not the City of Angels right now, it's the City of Trash," said Lopez.

In a statement to NBC4, Mayor Garcetti's office said, "We need to do a better job keeping our streets clean, and the Mayor directed Sanitation to add illegal dumping response teams earlier this spring. His proposed budget for next year also includes significantly more funding to address this issue."

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