As you drive through neighborhoods around downtown Los Angeles, they all have one thing in common: mountains of illegally dumped trash littering streets and alleys.
You’ll see the same trashy mess in parts of West LA, South LA and the San Fernando Valley.
“Illegal dumping is an issue that’s been impacting communities throughout Los Angeles for decades,” Mayor Karen Bass told the NBC4 I-Team this week. “That’s unacceptable,” Bass added.
She isn’t the first LA mayor to promise a crackdown on the kind of illegal dumping that the I-Team has been documenting, and questioning officials about, for more than six years.
In 2008, when then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was in office, the LAPD vowed to crack down on illegal dumping. But it didn’t stop.
In 2018, the I-Team reported on a rat-infested mountain of illegally dumped garbage that stretched for a full block. The I-Team’s stories made international headlines.
Headlines that prompted then-Mayor Eric Garcetti to promise another crackdown on illegal dumping in June 2019.
“We will not tolerate businesses that use our public streets, our spaces, our alleyways as their private dumping ground,” Garcetti said, promising stiffer penalties for illegal dumpers.
“We have seen absolutely no difference,” says Estela Lopez, head of the Downtown Industrial Business Improvement District. “If anything, the illegal dumping problem has gotten worse,” Lopez told the I-Team.
Lopez looks out her office windows on Crocker Avenue often and sees piles of trash from nearby businesses dumped in the alley.
“For the businesses doing this illegal dumping, either they’re getting away with it, or if they’re caught it’s just the price of doing business,” Lopez said.
Lopez points out that illegally dumped trash costs taxpayers millions of dollars a year, because city sanitation crews end up picking it up.
And an internal report by LA Sanitation, obtained by the I-Team, shows how common illegal dumping remains in some areas.
Sanitation officials observed LA’s Flower District for a two week period around Valentine’s Day and found 34 businesses in that one area had inadequate trash collection service, and they issued citations to 68 businesses illegally caught dumping trash.
“We need tougher penalties. We need something to show the illegal dumpers that we mean business,” Estela Lopez says.
The I-Team reviewed hundreds of illegal dumping citations from the first three months of 2023 and found most were just warnings with no penalty. When there is a fine, it can be as little as $250.
LA Sanitation’s chief of enforcement who is in charge of catching illegal dumpers says tougher penalties would help curb the problem, but higher fines have to be approved by the city council.
“It could definitely put a strain on them [the dumpers] because if the fines are a lot higher, it’s definitely going to be more in the pocket,” says LA Sanitation’s Abraham Abrahamian.
Bass has vowed to a new crackdown on illegal dumping.
In a statement to the I-Team, Bass said she’s now working with departments to come up with strategies to stop illegal dumping.