When the coronavirus hit, Los Angeles launched into something like an eternal spring cleaning. With millions of residents stuck at home, requests to the city’s free My311 system surged, as people wanted help hauling away mattresses, couches and other big things.
In the years before the pandemic, the system generally received about 50,000 bulky-item requests each month. Starting in May 2020, more than 60,000 pick-up calls poured in for six months in a row. The apex came in July and August, with more than 70,000 requests each month.
The 60,000-request plateau was hit again five times in the first eight months of 2021. Now, however, inquiries for bulky items are coming down to a more manageable level. October and November each saw about 50,000 calls for service, according to publicly accessible My311 call data.
James Moore, the division manager for the Valley Collection Division of the Los Angeles Sanitation & Environment department (known as LASAN), believes the decrease is due to people getting back to work and not spending all of their time remodeling their homes.
“They pretty much cleared out everything they had in their garages,” he said.
Last year’s spike in requests put a strain on LASAN employees. Moore said it was a double whammy of not only more calls, but also a decreased staff from a wave of retirements on top of COVID-related absences. The department still needs to hire about 100 people.
“As the waits [for service calls] were rising, our staffing level kept dropping,” he said.
Culture of reporting
Since 2016, Van Nuys has recorded the highest number of bulky-item requests of any neighborhood in Los Angeles. Last year, more than 20,000 inquiries were made in the community. Through Nov. 30 of this year, Van Nuys residents made 18,393 calls to take away the oversized goods.
Michael Browning, president of the Van Nuys Neighborhood Council, said it is a success that residents are utilizing the service so frequently.
“When you see mattresses and tables and shopping carts full of things that have been discarded, it sends the message that it’s okay to do almost anything in this neighborhood,” he said.
The 20,044 bulky-item calls in Van Nuys last year represents a 47.9% increase over the 13,552 requests in the community in 2016. Browning believes that in addition to COVID, the influx in requests is due to people moving out of the neighborhood. He said Van Nuys is becoming more expensive and the lack of affordable housing and rent-controlled units are forcing people to find other places to live. He said some neighbors canvass apartment buildings and notify the city about large items that need to be hauled away.
“We’ve developed that culture around here to report,” he said.
Van Nuys isn’t the only Valley neighborhood with a lot of bulky-item pick-up needs this year. There have been 14,132 requests for service in Sylmar through Nov. 30, making it the community with the fourth-most calls.
But this is not solely a Valley issue, as requests stream in from virtually every neighborhood in Los Angeles. The second-most My311 calls for bulky-item pick-up come from San Pedro (15,885 requests). Also in the top five are North Hollywood (third, with 15,788 calls) and Boyle Heights (fifth, with 13,100 requests).
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