W. Covina Rejects BKK Ban on L.A. Trash
County Supervisor Pete Schabarum last week failed in his fourth attempt to persuade West Covina to ban the BKK Corp. landfill from accepting trash and sewage sludge from Los Angeles.
The West Covina City Council voted unanimously to have the city staff send Schabarum a letter reiterating its opposition to joining the supervisor’s efforts to pressure city officials in Los Angeles to permit the opening of a landfill there.
Councilman Forest Tennant said the council objected to Schabarum’s request mainly because it was uncertain about the legality of trying to regulate the BKK landfill.
"(Regulating) BKK is not like regulating the county Sanitation Districts’ landfills--it’s a private company,” Tennant said. “I personally don’t believe West Covina has the legal authority to do what he’s asked to be done.”
City Councilman Robert Bacon said council members were also worried that if the city tried to keep out waste from Los Angeles, it could be held liable for BKK’s lost revenue.
“If we imposed that, I think there is a very high probability we would be sued by BKK,” Bacon said. “If Schabarum wants to prohibit (Los Angeles trash from entering landfills in other parts of the county), he should put his money where his mouth is and offer to pay attorneys’ fees.”
However, Schabarum aide Mark Volmert said County Counsel DeWitt Clinton has already determined that West Covina can legally ban Los Angeles trash from the landfill. In stating Schabarum’s position, Volmert accused council members of lacking the courage to make difficult decisions.
“When it comes down to actually doing something about the garbage crisis, the City of West Covina has again wimped out,” Volmert said. “They’re hiding behind a weak excuse to avoid doing something they don’t want to do. . . . I think it’s time for the City Council to rustle up the guts to tell the City of L. A. to take care of its own damn trash.”
BKK President Ken Kazarian said he did not see how his firm’s landfill could discriminate against Los Angeles waste.
“Our business license says we’re open to the public, and we feel we have the obligation to take anything we can legally take,” Kazarian said. “The analogy would be to tell a shoe store they couldn’t sell shoes to people from different cities. You can’t check someone’s Zip Code before you do business with them.”
Tennant, who shares Kazarian’s philosophical opposition to city regulation of private landfills, said he would reject Schabarum’s proposal even if it were legal for the city to mandate what trash could be dumped in the BKK facility.
“I think that it’s a terrible precedent to have government go in and try to regulate a private company,” said Tennant, a doctor who operates a chain of drug abuse clinics. “BKK is a private business licensed by the state. My clinic is a private business licensed by the state. If the city can go in and regulate BKK, the city could come in and tell me how to run my clinic.”
Schabarum’s request was part of a countywide effort to leave Los Angeles officials no other choice than to open a new landfill in their city, Volmert said. Los Angeles trash has already been banned in the Spadra and Puente Hills landfills and at a dump operated by the City of Glendale.
“As long as L. A. (officials) can keep on sticking it in somebody else’s backyard, they don’t have to live up to their responsibility of dealing with their own trash,” Volmert said.
Currently, only about 200 of the 8,000 tons of trash entering the BKK landfill each day comes from Los Angeles, Kazarian said. But Volmert pointed out that a landfill operated by BFI Waste Systems in northern Los Angeles, which also takes 8,000 tons of trash a day, is due to close next year. After that, he said, Los Angeles officials may try to ship that waste to West Covina.
However, Bacon and Tennant said they saw Schabarum’s request as an attempt to put West Covina in the middle of a long-running feud between the supervisor and Los Angeles city officials over where to site landfills.
“There’s been a lot of behind-the-scenes political warring,” Tennant said. “I’m not interested in that. I just want to get the problem solved.”
Volmert rejected the idea that Schabarum is simply engaging in an inter-agency squabble.
“Some folks have made this into a contest between Schabarum and the City of Los Angeles. I’ll tell you, it didn’t start out that way,” Volmert said. “After trying for a decade to work with the City of Los Angeles, Schabarum has had to take this tack until the City of L. A. becomes a responsible player.”
Tennant said that if Schabarum is sincere about trying to ease the San Gabriel Valley’s burden of handling two-thirds of the county’s trash, he should support BKK’s efforts to open a landfill in Elsmere Canyon, in the northern San Fernando Valley.
“The bottom line is: Back Elsmere now,” Tennant said. “We’ve killed the incinerators; we’ve killed more landfills in this area. We need this.”
Schabarum has said he will support opening a landfill on county land only if the City of Los Angeles agrees to reopen the Mission Canyon landfill. Kazarian complained that this approach hampers efforts to open new landfills away from developed areas.
“It puts anyone trying to open up a landfill in the county area at a bit of a disadvantage, since approval of that landfill is dependent on the reopening of Mission Canyon, which we have no control over,” Kazarian said. “It’s a peculiar situation to have private industry in the midst of a disagreement between government agencies.”
Bacon said it is in the best interests of West Covina that BKK fill up its landfill in the city as soon as possible, preferably before 1995, when the landfill is expected to close.
“We have a goal of closing the BKK landfill to all trash at the earliest possible time, and the best way that goal can be reached is to have the landfill take everything it can get,” Bacon said.
But Volmert said that West Covina officials will never solve the San Gabriel Valley’s trash disposal problem unless they force Los Angeles to bury its waste inside its own city limits. He argued that with the impending closure of the BFI dump in Los Angeles, pressure may be exerted to open another landfill in the San Gabriel Valley.
“Common sense tells you that (Los Angeles city officials) are going to continue to look for other places to dump their trash, and history says they’re going to try to put it in the San Gabriel Valley,” Volmert said.