Ending Blight from “Donation” Bins

-Published by the Valley New Group-

From outside convenience stores, to strip malls, to parishes, it is easy to find donation bins on private lots throughout Los Angeles fixed with the D.A.R.E logo or another from a reputable organization. Many have trash strewn about nearby or have collected items left behind by those less fortunate. These bins are not allowed in the right-of-way but these donation bins have become a prevalent blight in parking lots in the West Valley and our entire region. I have heard from concerned residents about this issue. Their concern didn’t stem from seeing donation bins in the parking lots, rather it was because they became magnets for trash, bulky items and homeless encampments growing nearby. Over the past few months, my staff and I have been investigating who exactly owns these bins, how they got there, whether the donated goods actually go to good causes, and when they are sources of blight, what can we do to remove them from private land. The results are not what many would expect.

The first fact is that the goods are not directly given to people in need. We found that organizations like D.A.R.E hold licensing agreements with consignment companies such as Unirag that sell the goods for profit. These companies have gone around to businesses, sometimes without the permission of the property owners, and placed these bins on their private property, as well as in the public right of way (without City authorization). They slap a big D.A.R.E logo on it to convey legitimacy. But there have been serious problems between these companies and business owners even if authorization to place bins was given. 

I have been reaching out to local businesses to help with this problem. Two success stories are Sit and Sleep on Ventura Blvd. in Tarzana and Fallas Discount Store located on Sherman Way in Winnetka. The Sit and Sleep had made an arrangement with the consignment company to place a bin in their lot but Fallas did not give any sort of authorization. The bins grew to become sources of blight and illegal dumping and both store managers began to feel helpless since the owners did not want to remove the bins or accept responsibility. With persistence, my staff and I were able to get the bins removed by the company owner- but it should have never come to that. This situation is not unique to private businesses.

We were also able to help the Canoga Park Presbyterian Church but, once again, it took diligence and pressure. Their office administrator had been trying for 5 months without success to have the bins removed. She told us that the community blamed her by name for the mess that was left behind, which of course was wrong and misguided. She constantly contacted the company but they didn’t respond, only after my office called and threatened possible legal action did they finally remove their bins.

Another location where we demanded removal of two extremely large D.A.R.E Bins was from the parking lot of the Winnetka Recreational Center, a public facility. Unirag, the for-profit company that licensed those bins from D.A.R.E had to be given the ultimatum to either remove them from the parking lot or we were going to load them onto a skip loader and haul them away ourselves. Sadly, it often takes this type of pressure along with the threat of fines to force these bin companies to comply with the law – and even then some still ignore the request for removal.

The time for these for-profit companies taking advantage of our communities must come to an end. We must ensure that local businesses, even if they had an arrangement with consignment companies, have the ability to get bins removed and remedy these abuses. There is currently a motion making its way to the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Committee which would do just that. I am proudly and vehemently supporting this motion because it would require the operators of the bins be from legitimate non-profits or businesses in good standing and have written permission from the property owner. It would also establish penalties and fines for bad actors.

I encourage community members who want to donate used clothes and/or household items to support the many local organizations that accept them including: Goodwill Industries, the National Council of Jewish Women, the Out of the Closet Stores, and the Salvation Army. These are much better option than donation bins with questionable ownership.

These donations bins have been causing blight, and not actually helping those less fortunate. People need to know the truth about them and the bins should be removed whenever they become a nuisance. 

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