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The Great Divide: Cities Fight Over Plan to Fill Pit

Times Staff Writer

The pit is only about 150 feet deep, but in terms of the chasm it represents between Arcadia and El Monte, it might as well be the Grand Canyon.

For years, the two cities have fought over the owner’s proposal to turn the former quarry into a landfill for soil, rock and other inert material. The project area, on the western bank of the San Gabriel River at Lower Azusa Road, is a sliver of Arcadia surrounded by El Monte homes.

In the past, the battle had been fought over sewer lines and whether Arcadia had the authority to approve development proposals for the site.

Now the fighting has turned to a draft environmental impact report on owner E. O. Rodeffer’s plan for an 85-acre landfill and 12.5 acres of light industrial development on a parcel south of Lower Azusa.

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First Step to Approval

Rodeffer wants to lease the former quarry to the Torrance-based BKK Corp., which wants to operate a landfill there six days a week.

Certification of the impact report by Arcadia would be the first step toward approving the project.

Arcadia has tentatively scheduled hearings on the draft report for October, and could certify the final version by the end of the year. El Monte officials will have a town meeting next Thursday to discuss the proposal and listen to citizens’ concerns.

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The report, prepared for the city by the Los Angeles consulting firm of Michael Brandman & Associates, acknowledges that the landfill would create more noise, traffic and dust. But it concludes that a landfill would benefit the area and have a negligible environmental impact.

The landfill would eliminate the hazardous open pit, cover the area’s ground water supply and accept material that is now reducing the operating life of sanitary landfills, the report said.

But El Monte officials and homeowners are skeptical.

“It looks like they went through with the report and came up with an answer for everything but didn’t pay any attention to El Monte,” said Mayor Don McMillen. “I can’t see anything but (the project) being a problem for the city of El Monte.”

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McMillen said the report soft-pedaled the dust and noise problems the landfill would cause. The closest Arcadia homes are 2 miles from the project, he noted, leaving El Monte citizens to bear the brunt of the project’s detrimental effects. El Monte homes are next to a fence around the pit.

Moreover, McMillen said, the task of making road improvements recommended in the report to accommodate the landfill would be borne by El Monte, since the roads are in that city.

“We’ve got a lot of people who are very concerned about it,” McMillen said.

One of those people is Pat Gonzales, who lives six blocks from the pit. “There’s no Arcadia homes around there,” she said. “Technically, (the land) may be in Arcadia, but Arcadia residents are not going to be affected.

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“Just put yourself in my place,” she said. “If they were putting it in your neighborhood, would you oppose it?”

Unsubstantiated Fears

Arcadia Mayor Robert C. Harbicht said many of the concerns are unsubstantiated.

“Too much of what is going on is based on people’s fears; some may be accurate, some inaccurate,” Harbicht said. “The Arcadia City Council has not endorsed this project. In fact we’ve never considered it.

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“I’m interested is seeing whatever is done down there is done right,” he said. “We’re not trying to dictate what’s done.”

Many critics, he said, are overlooking the benefit of filling up the huge open pit.

“I don’t think there are many who think it’s good to have a hole in the ground,” he said. “If you don’t want a hole in the ground, you fill it up. It seems to me that the safest way to fill it up is with dirt and rock.”

The dispute dates back to 1956, when Rodeffer bought the land with the intention of developing the southern parcel for light industry while quarrying the northern 85 acres. In the past, El Monte officials have pushed for the southern portion to be residential, in keeping with El Monte neighborhoods to the south and west of the site.

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Conditional-Use Permit

Despite protests from El Monte, Arcadia granted a conditional-use permit in 1986 that allowed Rodeffer to sell 3 acres of the southern parcel to Public Storage Inc. for a 62,000-square-foot facility. The facility has since been built.

El Monte challenged the approval in court, claiming that Arcadia, Rodeffer and Public Storage violated state law by not preparing an environmental impact report. The court ruled June 16, 1987, that Arcadia had to consider the impact of the storage facility in the landfill project’s EIR.

The draft report concluded that no environmental problems have been caused by the storage firm.

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El Monte has refused to grant Rodeffer a needed sewer hookup for the southern parcel. As a result, he installed a septic tank system for the Public Storage restroom. El Monte officials have expressed fears that the septic system could contaminate ground water near the site.

Environmental concerns have also been raised by critics of the landfill proposal.

Water Table Exposed

They point out that the area’s shallow water table has been exposed through 30 years of digging and have voiced concerns that illegal dumping of organic or toxic materials could contaminate the underground water supply.

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To prevent such problems, the EIR recommends that a stringent inspection policy be followed at the landfill.

The recommendations include requiring partial unloading of trucks for visual inspection, shallow spreading of loads for final inspection and equipping inspectors with sensors to detect petroleum-based contaminants. Truck drivers should have to verify what they hauled in and remain on hand while dumping is in process, the EIR said.

Moreover, the report notes that the landfill would be regulated by the Main San Gabriel Watermaster, the Regional Water Quality Control Board, the South Coast Air Quality Management District and the county Department of Health Services.

But McMillen isn’t convinced.

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‘Possibility for Illegal Dumping’

“They’re not going to be able to inspect each load,” McMillen said. “There’s every possibility for illegal dumping.”

Harbicht disagreed.

“I think discussion of toxics or anything else is off the mark,” he said. “It would be in (the operator’s) interest to run it properly and prevent that.”

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BKK, which operates a landfill in West Covina, has said it would conduct business from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except Sunday. An estimated 150 to 200 trucks would transport 2,500 to 3,000 tons of soil, rock, concrete and other inert material daily to the dump, according to the EIR.

It is estimated that it would take 12 to 20 years to fill the pit, which could hold 11 million cubic yards of material. Afterward, plans call for light industrial uses of the property.

After the October public hearing, the report will be returned to the consultant for final revision, said Donna L. Butler, Arcadia senior planner. Additional hearings on the conditional-use permits for the landfill, the Public Storage facility and the subdivision of the southern parcel will follow the certification, Butler said.

Challenges to Report

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After the permits are issued, El Monte residents will then legally have the opportunity to challenge the project, she said.

“If they determine the EIR is flawed, that’s when they can file an action,” she said. “We feel very comfortable with it. It addresses everything at this point that has been brought up by the public.”

El Monte City Atty. David F. Gondek said the town meeting will allow El Monte citizens to make informed objections of the project.

“We want the people to know what we know,” he said. “To argue against this project because (someone) thinks it is a toxic-waste dump is unproductive. (The town meeting) lets the individual make a better, more reasoned objection to the landfill.”

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But attorney Brian S. Currey, who represents Rodeffer, questioned the motives of the meeting.

‘Trying to Work Up Hysteria’

“There are elements in El Monte who are trying to work up hysteria to this . . . by distributing flyers calling it a dump and saying it will hurt water quality,” he said. Rodeffer could not be reached for comment.

Both sides agree that the friction surrounding the Rodeffer proposal has hurt relations between the cities.

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“We’re really not trying to be bad neighbors,” McMillen said. “I’ve tried time and time again to sit down and work things out with members of their council. They won’t talk to us; they never have.”

Harbicht, who said his city is willing to work with El Monte, agreed the issue has been a sore spot.

“I think that there’s probably been for some time some resentment from the people of El Monte against Arcadia,” he said. “They think of us as the rich guys up the street who don’t care about El Monte. . . . That certainly is not the case.”


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