Bonney Klabunde’s neighbors affectionately call her “The Cleaning Lady,” but she said she doesn’t mind. In the last year, Klabunde (pronounced Klah-bun-dee) has made it her mission to sanitize the formerly garbage-strewn streets of her North Hills East neighborhood.

“Before, the streets were just cluttered with trash – unbelievable amounts of trash,” Klabunde explained. “It could have filled a sanitation truck.”

Illegal dumpers would drop mattresses and furniture on the sidewalks and in vacant lots around Nordhoff and Langdon, near Klabunde’s home, just east of the 405. The area not only has a large concentration of apartments and a high school nearby, but also a homeless population and street gangs, as well. A lack of street trashcans, combined with these factors, has created a serious litter problem.

The storm drains are completely filled with a mixture of trash, wood, plastic bags, diapers, leaves, and other detritus, so that whenever it rained, the streets flood. The drains also emit a pungent odor of decay that Klabunde likened to that of a dead animal. She added that, “even on the hottest days, there is green slime running down the street (from the drains).” “It is like ninja turtle slime,” she said. “It can’t be a healthy environment.”

For years, Klabunde would walk her dog on the sidewalks near her home and lament the woeful sanitation problem. A year and a half ago, she went to the North Hills East Neighborhood Council to discuss the problem and to try to work out a solution. One of the board members suggested the Bureau of Sanitation’s Adopt-a-Basket program, in which the Bureau gives out free wastebaskets if someone takes responsibility for emptying them.

“I went right to work,” Klabunde said, and “within a few weeks I had ten cans on corners in front of apartment buildings and in high foot traffic areas.” She
convinced the apartment owners to empty them on a regular basis, and to date, has installed about 40 trashcans in the area. She empties six of the cans herself using discarded shopping carts to tote the bags to a nearby dumpster. Michael Silber of the neighborhood council said that since Klabunde began her work, he has noticed about a 60% reduction in street litter.

Klabunde maintains the vacant lots as well, often enlisting pedestrians to help her move the bulky items. Silber said that she even gets some of the loitering gangsters in the area to help her. “You don’t say no to Bonney,” he explained. “If you say no, you’re in big trouble.”

Klabunde picks up the litter and calls the Bureau of Sanitation to haul the large objects away. “I call 311 almost everyday,” she explained. “I ask myself, ‘am I crazy or what?’” she continued, “but I can’t live with this. We have to live here and it is up to us to put in the time and effort to keep our community clean and safe.”

Klabunde has been making calls to get the storm drains cleaned out, but so far she has been told that there is no money to remove the debris. She plans to present the issue to the Mayor’s office.

Klabunde does the most that she can with the resources available to her, and her work has begun to incite a change in the culture of the neighborhood.

“I now have neighbors that see me out doing small cleanup projects and they join me. It’s a good feeling when you know people care and appreciate the effort, and maybe a sense of pride is spreading there,” Klabunde explained.

“I have noticed that many apartment buildings are now sweeping the curb and the street trash in front of their buildings. It makes me smile!”