People Let Fly at 'Monster' Landfill in Lopez Canyon

Times Staff Writer

Several city officials went before more than 60 frustrated, angry people Saturday to hear complaints about a "monster" that is running amok in the hills above their homes at the east end of the San Fernando Valley.

The so-called monster is Lopez Canyon Landfill, a looming mass of trash that fills two canyons above Lake View Terrace and surrounding communities.

Lopez Canyon, the only city-owned landfill now that Toyon Canyon in Griffith Park has closed, accepts nearly two-thirds of the 1.35 million tons of household trash collected in Los Angeles each year.

Under a city proposal, the landfill would expand into a third canyon and, besides household trash, would accept ash created through the proposed trash-to-energy incinerator, called LANCER, which the city is planning to build in South-Central Los Angeles.

That expansion did not sit well with area residents, who gathered in Lake View Terrace Recreation Center to complain to Bureau of Sanitation officials and City Councilman Ernani Bernardi, whose district includes the communities along the landfill's western boundaries.

Many residents expressed concern about possible health risks associated with the ash. Michael Miller, manager of the LANCER project, insisted that no hazardous material would be dumped at Lopez Canyon, which is not licensed to accept such material.

"As the Lopez monster has grown bigger and bigger, it has created bigger problems," said Marjorie Miller, a resident of Kagel Canyon, an unincorporated community a mile east of the dump. She rattled off a list, including "the hundreds of trucks it takes to feed this monster . . . and the stinking rancid smell from the body of the monster."

Each time the city has lost a place to put its trash, it has turned to Lopez Canyon to accept the added burden, residents said. And, they said, in the past, residents were given little say in the landfill's expansion.

Dennis Ghiatis, head of the land-use committee of Kagel Canyon Civic Assn., said that, even though Lopez Canyon is not licensed to accept hazardous waste, it receives from sewage treatment plants each day five to eight truckloads of sludge too hazardous to dump at sea.

Robert Alpern, principal sanitary engineer of the Bureau of Sanitation, explained that the sludge is not defined as hazardous by the state Department of Health Services.

Improvements Observed

Ghiatis, who toured the landfill with several other residents last week, said the daily accumulation of garbage is effectively buried each day now, an improvement over years past. And the city is quicker to respond to reports of airborne debris than it used to be, he said.

But he and several other residents complained that little has been done to shore up the steep slopes of the bulging landfill, which, as Miller put it, "has split at its seams" several times, disgorging a flood of trash.

During rainstorms, cascades of trash-laden water run down the compacted slopes of the landfill, Ghiatis said.

Alpern acknowledged that the eastern face of the dump needs more terracing and a debris basin to catch any runoff.

He also said the sanitation bureau is trying to push for City Council approval of funds to buy a broad swath of undeveloped land along the dump's eastern perimeter to provide a buffer zone for any future development.

But another Kagel Canyon resident said there is no guarantee that the city would not use the new land to expand the landfill.

Biggest Problem

The biggest problem, Miller said, is that "nobody else wants a monster like ours in their backyard." She said Mission Canyon Landfill, in the Santa Monica Mountains at the Sepulveda Pass, should be reopened so that another community shares the burden of dealing with Los Angeles' trash.

Now that eight of 15 City Council districts include portions of the Valley, Bernardi said, "we'll be able to get Mission Canyon opened."

He said every part of the city must start to accept some responsibility for the trash problem. Even with the proposed expansion of Lopez Canyon and the planned LANCER project--both of which will have to pass several environmental impact studies and numerous public hearings before they are approved--the city is going to run out of landfill space by 1995, he said.

"I can't think of a more troublesome area that confronts us than what to do with all this crud we create," Bernardi said.

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