Refuge from refuse: Rumblings over mysterious La Jolla trash can result in its replacement

This new trash receptacle was installed May 25, replacing another that went weeks without servicing.
This new trash receptacle was installed May 25 along northbound La Jolla Shores Drive, replacing another that went weeks without servicing.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

La Jolla Shores resident Brian Earley was tired of the trash piling up in an unemptied can. His complaints led to the trash container’s replacement this week amid a bigger mystery: Where did it come from?

The concrete and metal receptacle at a San Diego Metropolitan Transit System bus stop on northbound La Jolla Shores Drive at Paseo Dorado had been full for weeks, passed up multiple times by trash trucks, Earley said.

Earley, a board member for the La Jolla Shores Association, submitted a report on the city of San Diego’s Get It Done app on May 6. It was returned to him marked “Closed” with the reason that the city does not service that location.

The former trash receptacle at a bus stop on La Jolla Shores Drive at Paseo Dorado
The San Diego Environmental Services Department and the Metropolitan Transit System say they don’t know who placed this trash receptacle at a bus stop on La Jolla Shores Drive at Paseo Dorado or when it was put there. It was replaced May 25.
(Brian Earley)

Earley emailed officials in the city’s Environmental Services Department, asking it to reopen the case.

In emails also sent to the La Jolla Light, Earley wrote, “There are bags laying around it and it is creating a health hazard.”

Derek Martinez, code compliance officer in Environmental Services’ Waste Reduction Division, replied that the trash can “actually belongs to MTS since it is around that bus stop.”

Martinez advised Earley to open another Get It Done report that Martinez would forward to MTS.

However, MTS officials, who were copied on the later emails, also disavowed responsibility for the container.

The city Parks & Recreation Department also was consulted within the email chain to ensure it wasn’t a Parks & Rec container. It wasn’t.

Mark Olson, MTS director of marketing and communications, told the Light that MTS does not install standalone trash receptacles. MTS-maintained containers are “always secured to bus shelters and directly maintained by our shelter contractor,” he said.

The trash was picked up May 16, though neither MTS nor Environmental Services could answer who emptied it. Both continued to assert the receptacle wasn’t theirs.

“Nobody’s taken responsibility,” Earley told the Light.

He sent further emails asking how the trash can would be emptied in the future.

On May 18, Environmental Services code compliance supervisor Taylor Powers wrote that she and Clarke Peters, MTS supervisor of passenger facilities, had a “productive conversation” that determined the trash can was not the property of MTS or Environmental Services and that Powers would “look into having the trash can removed.”

Noting The Shores’ popularity with tourists and the site’s proximity to businesses, Earley implored Powers not to have the can removed.

“Removing this trash can will not stop the trash from accumulating,” he wrote. “You will create another health hazard by doing so.”

Earley told the Light that he was further surprised that a nearly identical trash can across the street at the southbound bus stop seems to be serviced.

“What really irks me is that both MTS and city employees drove by that [full] can for weeks and said nothing. That’s outrageous,” he said.

But Alma Rife, a spokeswoman for the Environmental Services Department, told the Light on May 24 that the cans are not identical. The one not being serviced needed someone to lift a plastic bag out the top of the receptacle, which does not align with city protocols for safety.

City-maintained containers open from the front, she said.

Rife said she learned there had been a city-owned trash can at the northbound location but it was hit by a car in 2016 and removed.

After negotiations between Environmental Services and MTS failed to determine which one would install a new container, the can was not replaced, she said.

Rife said no one knows who installed the concrete container, and she maintained that the city was unable to service it.

However, she said the city planned to replace the can with one that fits its service model.

Indeed, a new receptacle was installed May 25, with a front-loading door to match the other city-serviced containers.

Upon learning the can had been replaced, Earley said it’s “really surprising it took six years for the city to realize it needed replacing.”

He added that “LJSA is encouraged that the city now sees the importance of keeping trash off the street so close to the ocean.” ◆