Cleanup efforts in Little Havana increase after Local 10 report, but residents want more done

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla.Local 10 News’ recent story on the trash problem in Little Havana seems to have struck a nerve. The city of Miami has responded with how officials plan to address it.

Last week, Local 10 reported on how mounting street litter is more than just an eyesore, but causing flooding and health concerns for residents who live and work there.

Residents of Little Havana say they’re drowning in street litter.

For years, Local 10 News has been showing you how this historic national treasure has become one of trashiest neighborhoods in all of Miami.

“Little Havana has just become a dumping ground for people,” said Christine Rupp, Executive Director of Dade Heritage Trust. “There’s very little enforcement here by the city.”

Storm water inlets and catch basins are so clogged with litter and debris that the rain no longer drains. Instead, it routinely floods neighborhood streets, creating waves of trash that pound businesses and residences.

“We’ve reached out to the city of Miami, but lately we really haven’t heard back from them,” said Healthy Little Havana member Raissa Fernandez.

But just two days after Local 10 News’ story aired last week, public works crews were seen along Northwest 9th Avenue cleaning up the hotspots, unclogging the catch basins and storm water inlets that were featured in our report.

“Look, it’s way better than it was,” resident Oscar Guzman said in Spanish.

Last week, Guzman showed how he uses a pry bar to clean out the inlets whenever it rains to help keep the streets from flooding.

He said he’s called the city numerous times to report the issue in the past, but they’ve never addressed it, until now.

“They really should be sending crews to clean up whenever residents report that things are bad,” said Guzman.

In fact, District 3 Commissioner Joe Carollo posted images of Friday’s clean up on Instagram, writing: “We take pride in keeping our streets clean. Thank you to the solid waste team assigned to District 3.”

Local 10 News reached out to Carollo for comment. He declined an interview but released a statement listing all the policies and initiatives he says he’s championed to help clean up Little Havana.

It reads, in part:

“Responding and removal of garbage in my district occurs not only daily but quickly…. Rest assured I, along with my staff and City Administration will continue to work hard to ensure we keep our streets clean and safe for the betterment of our residents and their quality of life.”

Residents Local 10 News spoke with pushed back on those claims.

“Personally I haven’t seen it,” said Fernandez. “I continue to see the lack of services here for the cleanup.”

Fernandez is a member of Healthy Little Havana, a nonprofit that in 2020 created a littering and illegal dumping policy report, with recommendations for how the city should tackle the out of control situation.

It’s titled: “Porque Amo Mi Barrio, Cuido Mi Barrio.”

“We clean up this neighborhood because we love this neighborhood,” said Fernandez.

And she has, so far organizing five neighborhood cleanups, recruiting parents, teachers even students from nearby schools to help out, because she says the city is simply not doing enough.

“Not as much as we want it to be,” she said, when asked if the issue is being addressed.

Community leader Marvin Tapia said that’s because the city is hyper-focused on maintaining one street in particular.

“Calle Ocho is the golden goose, the golden egg everyone wants to take care of,” he said. “But what about the neighborhoods and the streets that are aside from those areas?”

According to the city’s public works department, catch basins are currently only cleaned out once every three to five years. Obviously, that is not enough.

Now that new funding has recently been approved, public works officials said the plan is increase maintenance to once every two years.

According to a recent report from Miami’s city manager, cleaning out the system once a year would cost the city an estimated $7 million dollars per year, and the report says that’s not sustainable.

Tapia doesn’t buy it.

“Our city officials…are wasting our tax dollars on things that are not so important,” he said. “This is important. The residents, the garbage, the littering.”

Not to mention the health of Biscayne Bay, because that’s where a lot of the street litter is headed.

“What happens with all that garbage? It goes into the bay,” Tapia said. “We’re in the rainy season. All that water goes into the drainage system, goes into the river and then goes into the bay.”

With so much at stake, residents say the city has to make this a priority.

“I would like them to really understand that this is critical,” said Fernandez.

Added Tapia: “The history and the people of Little Havana implore you, please help us clean it up.”

This by no means is just a Little Havana problem. There is rampant littering in Little Haiti, Edgewater, Liberty City, Wynwood, Coconut Grove…it is everywhere.

Officials say litter laws are too hard to enforce because police must actually witness the littering in order to issue a citation. A public education campaign is desperately needed.

Police also want neighbors to report illegal dumping when they see it by calling 311.

City Manager Stormwater Report:

Healthy Little Havana Illegal Dumping Report

Full Statement from Joe Carollo:

Illegal dumping in the City of Miami has become an all-too-common problem and is a complex issue that requires a multifaceted approach, which is why I have worked and will continue to work tirelessly in coming up with ways to combat this chronic problem happening not only in my district, but throughout the entire City of Miami.

The City of Miami’s Department of Solid Waste offers residential properties two (2) pick-ups of binned garbage a week, two (2) recycling pickups a month, and one (1) bulky trash pick-up per week. In addition to the services offered, my office worked to create a dedicated team of six (6) Solid Waste employees who service my district daily. Beyond picking up garbage, the team looks for other infrastructure related issues, such as cleaning out clogged drains. The Solid Waste team works in collaboration with six (6) staffers from my office who patrol the district daily looking for hotspots, which are immediately reported to the Solid Waste team for action. Responding and removal of garbage in my district occurs not only daily but quickly.

During my tenure as Commissioner, I have introduced legislation to help curb illegal dumping and the layers of nuisance it creates for our residents, business owners, and tourists. In September 2021, I brought forth an ordinance the City Commission passed, increasing the fine for persons or entities responsible for illegal dumping up to $15,000, in an attempt to rid our City of these violators. The City has found that much of the illegal dumping occurring is because of refusal to go through the approved methods of disposing trash and our City streets are being used by violators as their personal dumping grounds. To date, the Department of Solid Waste has installed 41 Cameras in my district, at hotspots identified by my office, for the proactive monitoring of illegal dumping.

In June 2021, the City Commission passed an ordinance I sponsored establishing a rewards program and hotline for members of the general public who provide tips on illegal dumpers that lead to either the issuance of a fine or an arrest. The person who reports the illegal dumping will receive a $500 reward upon a civil or criminal prosecution and conviction of the violator. Catching the culprits, fining and/or arresting them for their illegal acts is the best way to curb these activities and to clean up our City streets. Taking a stronger stance against illegal dumping by enlisting the help of our residents and business owners is an effective method in our attempt to catch and stop repeat violators from disposing their trash on our treasure.

In May 2023, the City Commission passed an ordinance prohibiting the disposition of yard waste, dirt, or debris when using leaf blowers or raking, in an effort to further protect our stormwater catch basins and City rights-of-way. Disposing of such debris into the City right-of-way can cause problems with the stormwater catch basins clogging the structure’s entrance, preventing rainwater from entering the stormwater system causing pollution and flooding. As evident by the number of protected trees in the City, tree debris is a naturally occurring issue and one that contributes to the clogging of some catch basins. This is why our Solid Waste team and staff look for and report clogged drains as deemed necessary. Routine pruning of overgrown trees is reported to and handled by the Department of Public Works, as is the cleaning of stormwater drains.

Rest assured I, along with my staff and City Administration will continue to work hard to ensure we keep our streets clean and safe for the betterment of our residents and their quality of life.

About the Author:

Louis Aguirre is an Emmy-award winning journalist who anchors weekday newscasts and serves as WPLG Local 10’s Environmental Advocate.