Trash pickup could be delayed for some parts of Long Beach as the city’s Public Works Department tries to fill staffing holes that have been caused by illness, injuries and vacancies, according to the department.

The city issued a notice last week that certain areas of the city could expect their trash not to be picked up on its regularly scheduled day because of the ongoing shortage. Recycling, a service the city has contracted out, is not affected by the current staffing issues.

Diko Melkonian, deputy director for the department who oversees its environmental services bureau, said he’s currently using overtime to help fill the gaps, but pulling employees from one route means that other routes are left vacant.

“It’s like dominoes,” Melkonian said.

The shortage is pronounced, with an average of about 12 routes unfilled per day, Melkonian said. That means that on Monday through Thursday, roughly one-quarter of the city’s 40-45 routes are unstaffed. On Fridays, that number shifts to about one-third of about 30 routes.

The pickup dates typically start in North Long Beach on Mondays, then move to East Long Beach and then to Downtown by the end of the week.

But the routes are not equally distributed throughout the city. The department assigns specific routes to certain drivers, and if those drivers are out with an injury or illness, they’re unstaffed.

The city issued a notice last week that the affected areas were in Central Long Beach, near Downtown and in Alamitos Beach.

A full trash bin in a narrow alleyway near Downtown Long Beach on Thursday May 4, 2023. Photo by Jason Ruiz

Why certain parts of the city are being affected is as much about staffing as it is about the type of trucks being used, which is dictated by the size of the alleys that they must drive down.

Tighter streets and alleys, like those near Downtown or in Naples, can’t handle the self-loading trucks that need clearance for the mechanical arms on the side of the truck, which grip trash bins and raise them over the truck to empty them.

Those areas require back-loaded trucks, Melkonian said, which need two people per truck, one driving and the other loading bins’ contents into the back of the truck. Those routes have been hit harder because the routes serviced by self-loaders only require one person per route, Melkonian said.

Friday routes virtually all require back-loaded trucks, he said.

The department is trying to ensure that the same routes are not consistently being skipped, but the limited staffing is requiring that some routes be skipped daily. That means other areas of the city could experience delays or missed pickup days, something that has already been reported by users on social media.

While the city completes the hiring process, current employees are working overtime, but Melkonian said that the city is also looking at short-term solutions like looking for other department employees to help with the two-person trash routes.

“I’ve got to hand it to the team, they’re working very hard to get it done on time, on the day it’s scheduled to be picked up,” Melkonian said.

The city doesn’t have an idea of when the staffing issue will be resolved.

For now, the city is asking people to leave their cans out at the street if they noticed they haven’t been picked up, with the hopes that it will be picked up the next day. The department is asking residents not to call in and schedule a pickup until it’s been a few days past their original pickup date if their trash is not picked up.

If you need to schedule a trash pickup, you can reach the Environmental Services Bureau at 562-570-2876.

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.