In Los Angeles, a little less illegal dumping

Practice still remains a problem, particularly in the East San Fernando Valley
City Life

Illustration of a no dumping street sign


Los Angeles has a problem with garbage. Not just people tossing gum or fast food wrappers on the street, but rather illegal dumping. The term applies to when individuals bring unwanted boxes, bags of trash, furniture or other items—whether personal or from a business—and leave them. Often people drive into a community, dump their goods, and then speed off.


After climbing for five consecutive years, calls for illegal dumping to the MyLA311 line and website dropped slightly in 2021, with the shift driven by tumbling numbers in the final three months of the year. The 8,381 complaints in December was the lowest monthly since March 2019.


Altogether last year the city fielded 117,656 calls about everything from clearing garbage piles to removing abandoned tires. The count was down from the record 128,956 complaints in 2020, according to publicly available MyLA311 data.


Bar chart of annual illegal dumping calls


The issue has been pronounced in the East San Fernando Valley, with those looking to dump likely capitalizing on large empty industrial areas and easy offramp access to the 118 and 5 freeways. 


Sun Valley saw more complaints than any other neighborhood in Los Angeles last year, with 5,115 reports. The community also had the highest number of calls in 2020. 


Norma Chavez, the secretary of the Sun Valley Area Neighborhood Council, said she has seen people dump concrete and piles of sand in her community. Despite the frequency of the practice, she said she is proud of her neighbors for actively reporting illegal dumping.


“We have a lot of areas that are not visible to passersby. It’s very easy to come and dump from other areas,” she said.


Other neighborhoods with elevated dumping reports last year were Van Nuys (4,429 complaints) and Pacoima (3,337).


Horizontal bar chart with illegal dumping complaints by neighborhood in 2021


The California Penal Code makes illegal dumping on public and private property punishable with a fine up to $10,000. Repeat offenders can be sentenced to up to six months in prison. 


Enduring problem

Dumping is not a new issue in Los Angeles. In 2002, the city introduced an illegal dumping crime tip program. People with information that leads to an arrest and conviction for unlawful dumping can claim a $1,000 reward. The reporting website lets users detail the dumping of everything from yard debris to barrels to “leaking liquid.” Last year the program received more than 2,500 calls, but according to the city, the last reward issued was in 2011. 


Dumping takes place in communities across the city. Downtown has historically suffered, and last year neighborhoods from Reseda to Koreatown to Green Meadows all had more than 2,000 complaints.


Last May, City Controller Ron Galperin, published a report analyzing illegal dumping along sidewalks, streets, alleys and other public areas. The report offered a number of recommendations to address the problem. Suggestions included increasing the number of dedicated illegal dumping cleanup crews, creating a public awareness campaign and establishing an interdepartmental working group to identify trends. 


How we did it: We examined data from MyLA311 on requests for illegal dumping pickups from Jan. 1, 2015-Dec. 31, 2021. For neighborhood boundaries, we rely on the borders defined by the Los Angeles Times. Learn more about our data here


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