An angry and raucous crowd disrupted a city meeting on the Lancer trash incinerator Saturday, raising new doubts whether the proposed South-Central Los Angeles project will survive a rising wave of citywide opposition.
The meeting at Jefferson High School, in the neighborhood where the city has condemned land for the incinerator, began with two consultants reading prepared answers to questions posed at an earlier meeting. But the audience of about 200 quickly tired of this and the city's consultants were shouted down by hecklers and chants.
Those in attendance, most of them staunch opponents from the largely black neighborhood and environmental activists from the city's Westside, said they objected to the format of the meeting, which forbade the consultants from directly answering any comments from the audience. City officials said the format was desirable to ensure accurate answers.
Strongest Rebuke Yet
The outburst was the strongest rebuke yet of the city's efforts to win public support for trash burning, which would largely replace the current practice of burying garbage in canyon landfills. Indeed, opposition appears to be stiffening week by week as more people learn of the plan, despite city efforts to convince people that burning is best.
Unable to stop the heckling, the city's consultants reluctantly turned the microphone over to Rep. Augustus Hawkins (D-Los Angeles), the first prominent black leader from South-Central to oppose Lancer. Hawkins was greeted by cheers, then he announced that letters from his district run 95% against trash burning.
"I don't think anyone can say this community is supporting this project," Hawkins said. "If the project is as safe as you say, it could be put on Bunker Hill," the high-rise section of downtown.
Hawkins' remarks touched on a sore point regarding Lancer in the South-Central community. When the City Council first gave its approval for the Lancer project, it called for two other incinerators of equal size to be built in the San Fernando Valley and on the Westside, the more affluent areas of Los Angeles. But the city has yet to choose a site or make any plans for the other incinerators, and in the black clubs and churches of South-Central there is much skepticism about those other plants ever being built.
At the same time, Hawkins and other black residents praised the presence of a sizable contingent of Westside environmental activists at Saturday's meeting. There was applause when a letter was read against Lancer from Councilwoman-elect Ruth Galanter, who is still hospitalized after an attack at her Venice home.
Galanter is closely allied with the Westside activists helping to oppose Lancer, and her defeat last week of longtime incumbent Pat Russell was seen by many as a sign that the Lancer project faces trouble before the council. It also could mean trouble for the council members who have pushed Lancer, especially Gilbert Lindsay, who invited the incinerator into his district.
Flyers distributed by the city at Saturday's meeting attempted to convince local residents not to be swayed by the Westsiders, warning the audience, "Don't let people who live outside your community tell you what to think."
But Richard Marshall, who has lived in South-Central for 40 years, said he welcomed the help of the Westside activists.
"I happen to know this is the most looked-down upon community in the city," Marshall told the city's consultants. "I'm very happy for the people who came here from the outside to help us. If they hadn't come, you probably would have shoved this thing down our throats."
The meeting Saturday was scheduled to let residents give their views of a health risk study conducted for the city by University of California, Berkeley, professor Allan H. Smith. The study, released in April, concluded that the proposed Lancer incinerator would be safer than any other operating trash burner. However, Smith used some different methods than other such studies, and a variety of public agencies and experts are evaluating the work to see if it is valid.
Bishop H. H. Brookins of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, who spoke briefly Saturday and urged the city to slow plans for Lancer until more is known, said the heckling may have resulted because residents were frustrated by the technical language Smith and the city's other consultant used.
"For Gods' sake, let us understand these terms you are using. We are not all from the University of California," Brookins said.
Critics also complained that Saturday's meeting was held before the evaluations of Smith's work have been completed. On Saturday, the city's Lancer director, Mike Miller, said he expects another public meeting to be held in September.