Majority of Supervisors Reverse Stand, Oppose Using Canyons as Dumps

Times Staff Writer

Breaking with its longstanding position that three verdant Westside canyons should be developed as a landfill, a majority of the County Board of Supervisors now either opposes such a move or would consider it only as a last resort.

Supervisors Deane Dana, Mike Antonovich and Ed Edelman also said that they support in concept a Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy plan, which is backed by Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, to buy the canyons and turn them into parklands.

Just last month, the board voted to finance a detailed study of Mission, Rustic and Sullivan canyons north of Brentwood as one of six locations that sanitation experts say are technically best suited to be garbage dumps.


In recent interviews and statements, however, the three supervisors agreed with city officials, who for years have said that dumping garbage in the canyons is a bad idea.

‘Have to Be Realistic’

Antonovich said flatly that he would not vote to develop the canyons--which abut Topanga State Park and are part of the proposed Santa Monica Mountains national parklands area--because many homes have been built nearby.

Edelman agreed. “We have to be realistic about where we can put landfills, and you can’t put them near residential areas,” he said.

Edelman and Dana, in whose district the canyons are located, both said they would oppose a landfill in the canyons unless all other reasonable options prove unworkable.

The canyons are at the bottom of the list of six top-rated locations for new landfills, “and would only be considered if all the other sites fall apart,” Dana said. “And they have no business falling apart.”

Four of the other top five sites are in sparsely populated areas north of the Simi Valley-San Fernando Valley Freeway or near Santa Clarita. The fifth is in Griffith Park.

Each supervisor also said that he generally favors a plan that would allow the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy to sell bonds to buy 2,400 acres in the Westside canyons from the county and the independent county Sanitation Districts.

Those agencies could use the money from the sale--estimated at between $9.5 million and $35 million--to help build new landfills in Elsmere Canyon four miles southeast of Santa Clarita or elsewhere.

The city would pay off the bonds over 50 years through a special tax on the garbage it dumps, said Anton Calleia, chief administrative assistant to Bradley and the city’s representative on the conservancy board.

Westside Councilman Marvin Braude also supports the proposal.

“I just assume the battle has been won and that no knowledgeable person seriously thinks that development of those canyons is a possibility,” Braude said. “The time has come when it’s obsolete to dump rubbish in highly urbanized areas.”

Calleia said the buyout proposal should be attractive to the county and the Sanitation Districts since the city would buy the canyons, not just block their development as in the past.

Solve Regional Issue

“This isn’t just opposing something,” Edelman said. “It sounds like an opportunity to help solve a regional issue. So, at first glance, it makes sense to me.”

However, no direct negotiations have occurred among supervisors, council members and officials of the Sanitation Districts.

“Everybody is being super careful,” Calleia said. Face-to-face discussions among officials probably will not be held until the appraised value of the canyons has been determined and the amount of the city dumping surcharge calculated, he said.

Conservancy officials, who have requested a preliminary state appraisal, said that if the canyons sell for $30 million, the special tax on city garbage would add 40 cents to the current dumping charge of about $15 a ton.

In opposing development of the three Westside canyons, Dana, Edelman and Antonovich are reflecting a spirit of cooperation that recently has marked city-county relations on landfill issues.

Led by Supervisor Pete Schabarum, the county for years had insisted that the city accept its share of garbage inside city limits by allowing dumping at Mission, Rustic and Sullivan canyons. Most landfills are in unincorporated areas of the county.

The City Council refused in 1977 and 1981 to grant the county a permit to reopen Mission Canyon, which had been used as a landfill until 1965. The city has also rejected a county Sanitation Districts plan to develop the 1,900 acres it owns in pristine Rustic and Sullivan canyons.

But chilly relations warmed in September, when supervisors shelved a Schabarum-backed proposal for a final study on developing the canyons.

At the same time, the board directed county officials to meet with the city to iron out past differences and to jointly determine the best sites for new landfills.

List of Options

City, county and Sanitation Districts engineers then drafted a detailed list of options, aimed at expanding landfills and finding locations for new ones to meet countywide refuse disposal needs for the next 50 years. Without expansion, existing landfills are expected to reach capacity in 1992.

The study of those options has been approved by the supervisors but has not yet been acted on by the City Council or the Sanitation Districts.

“This is a whole new direction we’re heading in,” Dana said. “This is the first time the city has been part of this (planning) process.”

However, there is not yet a consensus on which landfills are to be developed or expanded.

For example, the Sanitation Districts have said repeatedly that Rustic and Sullivan canyons are not for sale. And there is no guarantee that the districts’ board of directors would approve the conservancy buyout.

Response Unknown

Stephen R. Maguin, head of the districts’ solid waste department, said he does not know how the directors would respond to the plan.

“But from my standpoint, we clearly put six sites at the top of the list (of potential new landfills), and we recommend that all six be pursued,” Maguin said.

The Westside canyons site may be the best of the six top-rated locations because it is the largest, closest to the city and has soil that is not easily penetrated by liquids, Maguin said.

If the canyons were now open, the city could eliminate the trucking of garbage to distant pits and save $24 million a year, Maguin said. Another $6 million could be saved on garbage from county areas, he said.

Schabarum and fellow Supervisor Kenneth Hahn also still favor the Westside landfill.

“The public should be concerned, because this is costing them an additional $20 million a year” in hauling costs, Schabarum said.

With development of the canyons now highly questionable, both city and county officials say the prime site for a new landfill is Elsmere Canyon, just east of the junction of the Golden State and Antelope Valley freeways.

“We are going to study all six areas, but everyone here is aware of the problem with Mission and Rustic-Sullivan,” said Roslyn Robson, spokeswoman for the county Public Works Department. “So we are focusing primarily at this time on Elsmere Canyon. It is the second largest of the (sites), and it seems to be the one we could develop quickest.”

The Elsmere landfill, which could accept about 16 years’ worth of county rubbish, would be built primarily on U. S. Forest Service land the city is trying to acquire through a complicated real estate swap, Robson said.

In addition to Elsmere, sanitation engineers have recommended studies of the feasibility of new landfills in three other north county canyons--Towsley, Blind and Browns. Development of a small landfill in Griffith Park should also be studied, engineers said.

Expansion of six existing landfills, most in the north county, also should be pursued, they said.

While other methods of garbage disposal, such as recycling and composting, could reduce the county waste disposal load by between 10% and 27%, the city and county must expand some landfills and open new ones if they are to meet the region’s long-term needs, the engineers said.