Boyle Heights flood: Residents complain of clogged storm drains, and slow city response

A Los Angeles city sanitation truck visits a block of Bernal Avenue in Boyle Heights that flooded during a sudden downpour Oct. 19.
A Los Angeles city sanitation truck visits a block of Bernal Avenue in Boyle Heights that flooded during a sudden downpour Oct. 19.
Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC
A Los Angeles city sanitation truck visits a block of Bernal Avenue in Boyle Heights that flooded during a sudden downpour Oct. 19.
Longtime Bernal Avenue resident Manuel Medina obtained claim forms from a city sanitation worker for his car and his truck, both of which flooded when his street was filled with muddy water during Monday's sudden rainstorm.
Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC
A Los Angeles city sanitation truck visits a block of Bernal Avenue in Boyle Heights that flooded during a sudden downpour Oct. 19.
Alejandro Aceves points to weeds and dirt choking the fan of his car. The vehicle was partly submerged when his street in Boyle Heights flooded Monday.
Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC
A Los Angeles city sanitation truck visits a block of Bernal Avenue in Boyle Heights that flooded during a sudden downpour Oct. 19.
A tire and other debris sits on the sidewalk near a Los Angeles city sanitation truck on Bernal Avenue in Boyle Heights.
Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC
A Los Angeles city sanitation truck visits a block of Bernal Avenue in Boyle Heights that flooded during a sudden downpour Oct. 19.
A dumped mattress along Bernal Avenue in Boyle Heights. Residents complain that people dump debris in the neighborhood, but that when they report it to the city, response is slow.
Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC


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Neighbors on the 500 block of Bernal Avenue knew things were getting ugly during last Monday's downpour when the TV came down the street, floating in muddy water.

“There was like a 26 inch analog television that someone had thrown here on the sidewalk," said Manuel Medina, a longtime resident. "By the time the water reached up, it was floating in the middle of the street.”

That wasn’t nearly the worst of it.

The sudden rainstorm that swept over Los Angeles Monday afternoon sent mud flowing down the hillsides and swept debris like trash and discarded furniture onto the street. Storm drains were clogged, causing the street to flood.

Cars filled with water and mud, among them Medina's.

“It went all the way up the level of the door handles of my car," he said.

His truck flooded, too. At least Medina's vehicles were starting the next day. Neighbor Alejandro Aceves said he'll likely have to pay a steep bill to get his 1991 Mercedes running again. He said he'd just installed a new transmission.

“It was completely flooded inside and motor-wise, also," Aceves said. "Nothing works, nothing turns on. It’s just like an aquarium, basically.”

On Tuesday, a Los Angeles city sanitation crew worked on the damage. Jesus Novoa and a colleague hosed down muddy cars, and handed out claim forms to their owners.

“Right now we are here to assist the complaints of the vehicles that were flooded out, and we are here also to clear the gutters," Novoa said.

But the city doesn’t clear them often enough, according to Medina, who has lived in the neighborhood since the late 1960s. He said the street has flooded several times before.

People leave trash and discarded items on the sidewalk and in vacant lots nearby. Medina said he's often called the city's 311 line for cleanup services, but that response is slow.

“We called the last time when it flooded, for them to come and clean it, and they didn’t come," Medina said. "So this is the result, you know?”

An analysis of city 311 data from January 2011 through May 2015 shows a high volume of calls over stormwater and storm drains coming from ZIP codes in the eastern and northeastern parts of Los Angeles.

In that time, there were 131 calls to LA's 311 line from the three ZIP codes that correspond to Boyle Heights. There were a total of 5,722 calls made throughout the city about storm drains and storm water during this period.

Boyle Heights lies within City Council member Jose Huizar's district. On Wednesday, in response to the neighborhood flood and a predicted rainy El Niño winter, Huizar introduced a motion for the Bureau of Sanitation to step up street sweeping and debris removal to lessen flood potential.

It also calls for a report on what led to the Oct. 19 flooding.

"Currently, the Bureau of Street Services only performs street sweeping on 30 percent of city streets on a weekly basis," Huizar's motion reads. "Weekly street sweeping removes debris from the street and lessens the amount of potential material that can block catch basins."