Brian Earley, a resident of La Jolla Shores, was fed up with trash piling up in an unemptied box. His complaints led to the bin being replaced 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, let garbage trucks pass by multiple times, Earley said.

Earley, a board member of 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 with the notation “Closed” on the grounds that the city does not serve this location.

The San Diego Department of Environmental Services and the Metropolitan Transit System say they don’t know who placed this trash can at a bus stop on La Jolla Shores Drive at Paseo Dorado or when it was placed there. He was replaced on May 25.

(Brian Earley)

Earley emailed officials at the city’s Department of Environmental Services, asking them to reopen the case.

In emails also sent to La Jolla LightEarley wrote: “There are bags lying around and it creates a health hazard.”

Derek Martinez, code compliance manager for the Environmental Services Waste Reduction Division, responded that the trash can “actually belongs to MTS since it’s around that bus stop.”

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

However, MTS officials, who received a copy of later emails, also disavowed responsibility for the container.

The city’s parks and recreation department was also consulted within the courier chain to ensure it was not a parks and recreation container. This was not the case.

Mark Olson, director of marketing and communications for MTS, told the Light that MTS does not install stand-alone trash cans. Containers serviced by MTS are “always attached to the bus shelters and serviced directly by our shelter contractor,” he said.

The trash can was picked up on May 16, although neither MTS nor Environmental Services could say who emptied it. Both continued to claim that the vessel was not theirs.

“Nobody took responsibility,” Earley told the Light.

He sent other emails asking how the bin would be emptied in the future.

On May 18, Environmental Services Code Compliance Supervisor Taylor Powers wrote that she and Clarke Peters, MTS Passenger Facilities Supervisor, had a “productive conversation” that determined the trash can was not not the property of MTS or Environmental Services and that Powers “would look to have the trash 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 won’t stop the trash from piling up,” he wrote. “You will create another health hazard by doing this.”

Earley told the Light that he was further surprised that an almost identical trash can across the street from the southbound bus stop appeared to be serviced.

“What really pisses me off is that MTS and city employees have been through this [full] can for weeks and said nothing. It’s outrageous,” he said.

But Alma Rife, spokesperson for the Department of Environmental Services, told the Light on May 24 that the cans are not identical. The unmaintained one needed someone to lift a plastic bag off the top of the receptacle, which is not in line with city safety protocols.

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 was hit by a car in 2016 and removed.

After negotiations between Environmental Services and MTS failed to determine which 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 the city was unable to maintain it.

However, she said the city plans to replace the can with one that matches its service pattern.

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

Upon hearing that the box had been replaced, Earley said it was “really surprising that it took the city six years to realize it needed to be replaced”.

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