LA officials vote on new strategy to clean up streets, but cost is unknown

A discarded mattress awaits pickup in Silver Lake.
A discarded mattress awaits pickup in Silver Lake.
Kevin Ferguson/KPCC

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A  plan to overhaul the way Los Angeles cleans its streets, alleys and vacant lots moved a step closer to reality Wednesday with a City Council vote.

"We're recommending a basic standard of cleanliness in the neighborhoods and using data as a way of determining where resources get allocated and ultimately where investments get made," said City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, whose office wrote the plan.

Santana said it sprang from Mayor Eric Garcetti's "Back to Basics" focus and was written by Mark Thomas, a private industry executive who is taking a year to work in the CAO's office on a fellowship program. Council members Gil Cedillo and Tom LaBonge put the plan before the council, which unanimously approved it.

The plan would attack a dirty city on several fronts under the coordination of the city's Board of Public Works.

It would add to the 1,000 street trash cans the city maintains. It would work to strengthen business improvement districts, which can raise money within specific geographic boundaries for cleanups.

The plan would also send city staffers to gauge the cleanliness of all city streets according to an objective set of standards created by Keep America Beautiful and used by several U.S. cities.

Trash cleanups, which are now mostly done in response to complaints, would shift to a more proactive model. The city would use data from the street monitors and cleanliness index to decide where to focus cleanup efforts, and it would draw the public and businesses into the process.

The strategy seeks greater coordination among city departments to enforce laws against illegal dumping on city streets and vacant lots. And it calls for updates to the city's 1970s-era street sweeping plan.

Finally, the plan calls for an education and engagement campaign to get the public to take more pride in public spaces.

"We're going to clean up this city and make it the cleanest city in America," said Cedillo said during Wednesday's meeting. "We believe that rich or poor in this city, everybody deserves to have a clean street in front of their home."

Over the next two months, various city departments - like public works and sanitation -  will evaluate how to put the proposal into action. They also need to come up with a price tag to pay for the changes. The cost of the plan has yet to be estimated, Santana said.

"This is not about dollars and cents at this point, but ultimately it will be," he said.

Councilman Felipe Fuentes spoke with nostalgia for "the good old days where people would really take care of the front of their property and sweep.

"I'd love to see how we are going to engage the public," Fuentes added. "If we can educate people on how they can report this, how they can make sure that accountability is there, then we could solve half the problem."

Councilman Joe Buscaino, a former police officer, said he wanted some alleys monitored with license plate reading cameras to catch "the knuckleheads" who keep dumping trash there.