After a brief drop, illegal dumping complaints climb again

Neighborhoods across Los Angeles continue to be hit hard
City Life

Illustration of land where many things have been dumped, with a blue hue.


In the first part of 2023, reports of illegal dumping fell in the city of Los Angeles. It appeared to indicate progress against the enduring scourge of people tossing construction detritus, packing materials, home refuse and more in alleys and on sidewalks and empty lots.


That momentum has proved to be short-lived. From Jan. 1–May 15, Angelenos made 38,556 illegal dumping reports, according to publicly available MyLA311 data. That represents a 21.6% increase from the same period in 2023.


It is in line with the count in 2022, though is 12.5% below the number of complaints from Jan. 1–May 15, 2020. 


Bar chart of illegal dumping calls in the city of Los Angeles in the period from Jan. 1–May 15 over 6 years


Illegal dumping has long been a problem in Los Angeles, as certain individuals or businesses seek to avoid paying a trash hauling contractor or disposal fees at area dumps. Instead, often under cover of darkness, they drive to another neighborhood, toss items and speed away. 


In 2021, the prevalence of the practice prompted then-City Controller Ron Galperin to issue a comprehensive report. Titled “Piling Up,” it found that a rising number of dumping calls, along with staff shortages and responding to homeless encampments, was spreading Department of Sanitation (LASAN) crews thin.


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The report called for greater accountability, enforcing laws against illegal dumping, and doing more outreach to stanch the practice. It stated that there is, “little work put into educating the public about the impacts of illegal dumping and the need to properly dispose of business, construction and household waste.”


The problem persists. Last week District 15 Councilmember Tim McOsker revealed how busy crews with his Clean 15 program have been since launching in July 2023.


“There’s clearly a systemic problem when we’ve removed 52 million pounds of trash and dumping in 10 months, 31 million of which was just this calendar year,” McOsker said.


Hitting a peak

The pace of illegal dumping complaints increased in the latter part of the 2010s and peaked in 2020, with 129,224 reports, according to MyLA311 data. Calls fell in each of the following three years, to 95,732 in 2023.


Line chart of annual illegal dumping calls in the city of Los Angeles from 2017-2023


It is unclear why counts dropped in the first part of last year before rebounding. One contributing factor could be Mayor Karen Bass urging Angelenos to use MyLA311. Additionally, last October she announced an overhaul of the system, in the effort to make it more transparent and to allow people to track the status of their request.


Illegal dumping has long been a problem in a few specific neighborhoods. For years calls have been high in Downtown, as import businesses receive shipments, then throw cardboard boxes and other materials into alleys. The practice continues, as NBC4 revealed last year in a report on low penalties for dumping.


Councilmember Kevin de Leon, whose District 14 includes Downtown, as well as Boyle Heights and other communities, authored a motion last month asking that $500,000 be transferred from his office’s Public Benefits Trust Fund to the city’s Office of Community Beautification for clean-ups in his territory, and that another $500,000 be shifted from a gang alternative program. The motion said that in 2022 alone, LASAN cleared over 3,000 tons of illegal dumping.


“Council District 14 has regularly engaged community organizations to assist LASAN with illegal dumping removal, with five crews currently working throughout the district,” the motion stated. “Due to the sheer volume of trash, crews are still needed to address the inordinate amount of trash dumped illegally throughout the Council District 14.”


Complaints in the Valley

Another neighborhood that has suffered over the years is Watts, as a Los Angeles Times report from March 2023 revealed.


The problem is also widespread in the San Fernando Valley. Early last year, in a debate for the District 6 City Council seat, candidate Imelda Padilla described how contractors and construction companies frequently drive into the area, exit off the 5, 118 or 170 freeways, and drop piles of busted-up concrete or other materials, then speed away (Padilla won the election and now represents the area).


In the period from Jan. 1–May 15, Van Nuys was the site of 1,369 illegal dumping reports, more than any other neighborhood in the city. The next-highest count was the 1,125 calls in North Hollywood.


In fact, in each full year from 2020–2023, Van Nuys has ranked first or second in the city for illegal dumping complaints, according to MyLA311 data. Sun Valley, Pacoima and Panorama City also regularly have high call volume.


Table of Los Angeles neighborhoods with the most illegal complaints from 2020 through May 15, 2024


While the practice is pervasive, it is also, as the moniker implies, illegal, and repeat offenders could be hit with escalating fines of up to $3,000. Yet many rules-breakers only receive citations, and the practice continues largely unabated.


How we did it: We examined publicly available MyLA311 service data from Jan. 1, 2018–May 15, 2024. For neighborhood boundaries, we rely on the borders defined by the Los Angeles Times. Learn more about our data here


The city of Los Angeles may update past service requests with new information, or recategorize past reports. Those revised reports do not always automatically become part of the public database.


Have questions about our data or want to know more? Write to us at