The Santa Clarita City Council is struggling, so far unsuccessfully, to become a player in a high-stakes game to determine whether a dump is opened just outside the city’s limits.
The council, which has slowly started taking steps to enter that game, last week authorized Councilmen Carl Boyer III and Howard P. (Buck) McKeon to develop a strategy on how to deal with plans to put a landfill in Elsmere Canyon, west of Santa Clarita.
The landfill has been proposed separately by the city of Los Angeles and BKK Corp., a private refuse company.
The need for the Santa Clarita City Council to develop a coherent strategy became apparent during a council meeting last week when, during an unusually frank discussion, frustrated members admitted that they were not sure what position to take on the dump.
“We’re not even in the game,” Mayor Jan Heidt said.
Said McKeon, “We have to be careful we don’t make the wrong move.”
The issues are complex. The key players involve, among others, the Los Angeles City Bureau of Sanitation, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the Los Angeles City Council, the U.S. Forest Service, Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Studio City) and BKK.
The canyon is west of the Antelope Valley Freeway and lies partly inside the Angeles National Forest and unincorporated Los Angeles County.
The council’s discussion centered on legislation by Berman that would transfer 900 acres from the Forest Service to Los Angeles to provide a dump site in Elsmere Canyon. In return, the Forest Service would receive 756 acres of city-owned property for parks. The proposed trade is part of a large, complicated land swap involving 8,767 acres.
Under the bill, now before a congressional subcommittee, Los Angeles would contribute $100,000 to a trust fund to buy more parkland. The city would use income from the landfill to contribute $500,000 to the fund annually until the dump closes, perhaps after 50 years.
Meanwhile, BKK has already applied to Los Angeles County for a permit to operate the dump and recently launched an environmental impact study on the proposal, said BKK President Ken Kazarian. BKK already owns enough land in Elsmere Canyon to start a landfill and hopes to open it as a private dump in 1991, before the city of Los Angeles is able to, Kazarian said.
These competing interests create a political minefield for the Santa Clarita City Council. And the dialogue among council members Tuesday revealed how far the city has to go before taking a stand on the landfill.
Boyer said he believed the Santa Clarita City Council should be prepared to oppose the bill at congressional hearings in Washington if necessary.
But McKeon urged caution. Is the council prepared, he asked, to take a stand and oppose Berman’s bill?
Ready to Fight
“To have the city of Los Angeles buy Elsmere?” replied Councilwoman Jo Ann Darcy. “Yes, we’re opposed!”
Boyer reminded Darcy that Los Angeles might be willing to give Santa Clarita something in return if the young city endorses Elsmere as a dump site. It was a reference to the 520-acre Saugus Rehabilitation Center site owned by Los Angeles inside Santa Clarita. The Santa Clarita Council wants to buy the property as a site for a civic center and park.
So far, Santa Clarita has “not been able to make any progress” in its attempt to buy the rehabilitation center property, said City Manager George Caravalho. At his urging, the council passed a resolution asking the Los Angeles City Council to begin negotiations on the site.
McKeon then noted another problem facing the city. Opposing Berman’s bill could make Santa Clarita an unwitting supporter of the private firm also considering Elsmere. “If we oppose this, we’re an ally of BKK,” McKeon said.
Kazarian said it is unclear what impact Berman’s bill would have on his company’s plans. He also said BKK is negotiating its own land swap with the Forest Service to attain an additional 1,700 acres in Elsmere Canyon. Under the proposed swap, BKK would purchase land selected by the Forest Service and exchange it for the Elsmere property.
“It just keeps getting more and more complex,” Kazarian conceded.
The Santa Clarita council members have said repeatedly that they felt shut out of the planning process for Elsmere. “We don’t know this. We don’t know that. There’s a lot of fishy stuff going on out there,” Heidt said.
Heidt also charged that Westside politicians were ganging up on Santa Clarita to keep a dump out of the Santa Monica Mountains. “This is just a political power play,” the mayor said.
Marc Litchman, a spokesman for Berman, denied the charge. “The aim of our legislation is to get a whole bunch of recreation land for the Santa Monica Mountains,” he said in an interview. Berman’s bill is co-sponsored by Reps. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles), Anthony C. Beilensen (D-Los Angeles) and Mel Levine (D-Santa Monica).
Litchman said Berman is willing to hear the Santa Clarita City Council’s concerns. “As soon as they make a decision on where they want to go, they should come to us,” he said.