Blight Begets Blight: Vacant Lots are Popular Dumping Grounds in South L.A.

Vacant lots are magnets for illegal dumping. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Vacant lots are magnets for illegal dumping. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

I was on my way home after taking photos of the pretty new parklet that had popped up along Vermont Ave. a month ago, when I stopped by this beauty of a vacant lot (above) at 41st and Main.

Unusually, the gate to the lot was open and the remnants of a red sofa had managed to sneak itself in, apparently in need of a spot to luxuriate in the winter sun away from the stinking pile of garbage left on the sidewalk.

Fetid garbage bags line the sidewalk in January, making that stretch nearly impassable. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Fetid garbage bags line the sidewalk in January, making that stretch nearly impassable. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

While the sofa has since been removed and the gate closed, the garbage bags remain.

In the month since I first photographed them, they’ve been picked apart by scavengers and scattered all over the place, making sidewalk passage even more difficult.

What remains of the garbage bags at 41st and Main. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

What remains of the garbage bags at 41st and Main as of this past Sunday. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

And, they’ve been joined by newer, even stinkier and more dangerous friends.

What remains of the garbage bags left at the corner of 41st and Main. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Garbage attracts more garbage. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Some of the newer garbage also included hazardous waste (i.e. motor oil) and boards with nails sticking out of them and some of it appears to have been set on fire recently.

Motor oil and boards with nails make passage for pedestrians rather hazardous. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Motor oil and boards with nails make passage for pedestrians rather hazardous. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

There’s also a “new” gray couch and some tires a bit further down the sidewalk.

Another couch and some tires join the growing refuse pile. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Another couch and some tires join the growing refuse pile. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

It’s disgraceful, a neighbor told me in Spanish. People are pigs. It isn’t right for them to do that to us.

And it’s not safe, he said, describing the rotting food and other hazardous materials they find there. You can’t let children walk through there! Sometimes you can’t even pass [through] because of all the garbage!

He took great pains to keep his yard and the sidewalk in front of his home clean, he said, and didn’t appreciate that others would take advantage of them because they were immigrants in a poor neighborhood.

But when asked if he knew who was doing it, he — like everyone else on the block — was in the dark.

If I knew who it was, I would point the finger, he said, gesturing toward the refuse on the corner, because this is a dirty business.

They come in the middle of the night, said another neighbor in Spanish.

She and other family members live just one door down from the vacant lot. The dumping drives them crazy.

We call and sometimes they come to pick it up, she complained. Other times nothing happens. But even if it gets picked up, the next day there will be more things there.

Her elderly relative nodded.

They said they had even tried to visit the council district office, but it had been moved from nearby 47th and Broadway to 43rd and Central after Jan Perry was succeeded by Curren Price in the last election.

They would keep calling, they said, but what they wanted was a permanent solution.

Garbage gathers on the corner at 41st and Main in January of this year. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Garbage gathers on the corner at 41st and Main in January of this year. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

“It’s pretty bad,” agreed a teen.

He wondered aloud if the current batch of crap was whatever had been left over in the vacant house next to the lot that had recently undergone a renovation (a call to the real estate company in charge of that building was not returned).

Even so, he said, he’d seen worse.

“There’s always something there.”

I had heard the same from another teen in January.

“It’s bad in some of the alleys around here, too.”

I actually didn’t have to venture anywhere near an alley to find more dumping. Vacant lots are a lot like magnets, and not in the fun, Breaking Bad kind of way: blight begets more blight (below).

More dumped furniture lines 41st Pl., one block south of the vacant lot. Sahra Sulaiman

More dumped furniture lines 41st Pl., one block south of the vacant lot. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

The persistence of so many vacant lots across South L.A. — many of which were a product of the 1992 Riots — seem to be symbolic of the disinclination of the city to invest in the area. To the community, that translates into the sense that the city doesn’t care about the condition of the neighborhood. To dumpers, it signals that nobody is watching over what happens there.

A vacant lot along Vermont Ave. accumulates trash. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

A vacant lot along Vermont Ave. sprouts trash like weeds. Not pictured is the burned out armchair I scrambled over to take the photo. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

And, even when cameras were put up in a number of alleys to curb dumping, the problem either continued unabated or moved on to other streets. When dumpers are caught — as in the case of two men who dumped construction and other materials several times in El Sereno — they are only handed misdemeanor violations. But, it is rare that they are ever caught at all.

Discussing residents’ frustrations with the long history of dumping at that site with someone from the Bureau of Street Services this morning, I was reassured that they would take a look at the site and do what they could about it.

That help is much appreciated.

As one woman said when I told her I would see what could be done about the problem, “We are glad to hear someone is interested in helping us take care of the neighborhood.”

But, they also want a longer-term solution.

Unfortunately, at the moment, there just don’t appear to be any.

* Tomorrow’s post will feature information about a community forum in Boyle Heights hosted by the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust aimed at informing community members about the process underway of cataloging and surveying characteristics of city-owned vacant lots. They will also work with neighbors in small groups to engage them both on how to help in the process and the kinds of opportunities neighbors envision for the future of those spaces.

You are encouraged to call Street Services Investigation & Enforcement at (800) 996-2484 or (213) 847-6000 if you see dumping in progress or have evidence (i.e. photos, videos) that could help launch an investigation. Otherwise, you can call 311 (or fill out an online form) to report instances of dumping. For alleys or street dumping in unincorporated areas like Florence-Firestone, contact the Department of Public Works. If at all possible, keep track of the calls made so that the problem can be tracked over time and brought to the attention of city officials if necessary.