After stalling for two months, the Los Angeles City Council bowed Tuesday to public pressure and Mayor Tom Bradley's wishes to kill the Lancer trash-to-energy incinerator once proposed for a plot of land near the Memorial Coliseum in the South-Central area.
While the action Tuesday spells an official end to the $235-million Lancer project, it leaves open the possibility that the city might someday--perhaps sooner than later--burn its garbage rather than bury it in hillside canyons. The city's last canyon landfill must close in 1993, and city officials had counted on Lancer to get rid of most household trash.
As finally written, the action Tuesday sets in motion a plan to disentangle the city from a complex arrangement to finance the Lancer project with tax-free municipal bonds.
Credit Rating at Stake
It may take three months to finally pull out of the financing deal, City Administrative Officer Keith Comrie said. The financing has already cost the city $2.1 million in brokerage fees, and the tab runs $25,000 a month more until the plug is pulled. But a smooth withdrawal is vital for the city to protect investors and keep a good credit rating, Comrie said.
But, said City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, "It's very clear from the discussion that this project is dead. It just needs to have a proper burial, so to speak."
By early last year, when most residents first began to hear about Lancer in their churches and grocery stores, the city had already spent three years making preparations for the incinerator. But in the end, opponents mobilized and the community sent a clear message that they did not want the plant with its 200-foot smoke stack and suspect emissions.
It was a bitter loss for City Councilman Gilbert Lindsay, the longtime representative of the South-Central area, who turned his office into the City Hall command center for the lobbyists who pushed the project for the big national firms that build and run garbage incinerators.
Lindsay was largely responsible for the selection of Ogden-Martin Corp. to operate Lancer and he had, until the last few months, stubbornly ignored the growing opposition to Lancer in his district.
Not Accepting Defeat
In June, when Bradley called for an end to all Lancer plans, Lindsay stood next to the mayor at a news conference and reluctantly conceded that the project was dead. Since then, as the council delayed carrying out Bradley's will, Lancer opponents came to believe that Lindsay had not quite accepted defeat.
This feeling was heightened when Lindsay's chief deputy, Robert Gay, accepted a free trip from a real estate developer in July that took Gay and his wife to Hong Kong, China and Paris--where he met with European officials of Ogden-Martin and toured their incinerator near Orly Airport.
"If Lancer is dead, why is Bob Gay still looking at incinerators in Europe?" a South-Central activist asked recently.
On Tuesday, the 86-year-old Lindsay seemed confused as he offered a series of motions that would first have kept alive--then almost, but not quite, killed Lancer.
None reached a vote, however, as it became clear that the council wanted to do away with Lancer for good. After much haggling between city attorneys and Lindsay's staff, it came to Yaroslavsky, a long-time Lancer opponent, to finally author the motion that terminated the project.
"For once, I've got nothing to say," Lindsay said, his voice trailing off, before the vote. Then he turned to Yaroslavsky and threw up his hands.
"Do what you have to do."