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All hands on deck? The politics of keeping Skid Row clean

By Hayley Fox
Published: Thursday, March 08, 2012, at 10:06AM
Andrew Lopez

Skid Row is "The part of society that no one else wants to touch and look at it," said resident Katherine McNenny.

The piles of trash and debris on Skid Row seem to be mounting and when it comes to keeping the area clean, finger-pointing abounds.

So whose responsibility is it?

Skid Row is defined as the area between 3rd and 8th streets, and Spring and Alameda -- and no single governing body is responsible for maintaining it.

The L.A. Department of Street Services does the street-sweeping, trash pick up and some general maintenance. But they are only in charge of the actual streets -- not the sidewalks, where the bulk of the Skid Row residents live and keep their belongings.

"If it's in the roadway we clean that," said John Sapone, Division Manager of L.A. Street Services.

Sapone explained that there's 6,500 miles of street in Los Angeles, and only one third of that area has regularly scheduled and posted street sweeping schedules. The rest is "open" - swept on a rotating basis when needed.

Sapone said that commercial areas create more debris than residential, so many of these areas get swept multiple times a week. From 3rd Street to Olympic Boulevard and Los Angeles Street to Alameda, this area that encompasses Skid Row gets cleaned every day, officials said.

A five-person crew is hand-cleans blocks in this area from 8:30-11:30 a.m., Sapone said.

"They tell me that they come through here once every 24 hours to clean the street," Estela Lopez from the Industrial Business Improvement District (BID) said. "I suppose they must do it at night. I never see them."

Lopez said her BID is out cleaning certain areas of Skid Row for almost eight hours a day.

"If we had to depend on the city that stuff would be on the sidewalk every single day," said Lopez.

Surrounding the perimeter of Skid Row are three different BIDS -- the organizations where business owners pay extra taxes to help maintain safety and cleanliness in their area.

Much of Skid Row is included in Estela's Industrial District BID. This year the BID will spend $460,000 on maintenance in the area alone, said Estela Lopez from the Central City East Association.

It's not mandatory for these business owners to contribute this extra money but without it the Skid Row area would be "unimaginable," said Lopez.

"Everything you and I do at home is done on the sidewalk," said Lopez. "Eat, sleep, go to the bathroom, throw up, read."

Lopez said the hundreds of thousands of dollars go towards paying personnel, using trash trucks, buying brooms, trash can liners and gloves -- and picking up three to four tons of trash everyday.

The BID also pays to take the trash to the dump and with the rising cost of gas, Lopez expects their overall fuel costs to skyrocket.

Although the BID handles much of the area, many of Skid Row's most polluted streets, including San Julian and Wall Streets, fall outside the boundaries of any BID's responsibility.

Katherine McNenny, a resident and activist in the Skid Row area, said the worst sanitation problems are on San Julian -- and it's one of the areas that's getting the least attention.

"I'm wondering why the property owners haven't stepped up?" said McNenny.

There's no BID for San Julian because there's no businesses there, Lopez said, the street needs attention from the private sector because community volunteers can only do so much.

McNenny is one of these volunteers and is working with "Operation Face-Lift" to focus on the overlooked San Julian street.

"This is grassroots style," she said. "This is how we do it."

McNenny said there's a lot of misinformation and fear among Angelenos when it comes to approaching and interacting with the people living on Skid Row. Many of the homeless are mentally disabled and many are hardcore drug addicts, so its crucial to have an "insider" work with them on cleaning up the area.

"The groups are already there they just need the support of the city," said McNenny, referencing the work of organizations like OG's N Service.


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