Bernardi Bolts, Blocks Vote on Lopez Canyon Dump

Times Staff Writer

Councilman Ernani Bernardi blocked a vote Wednesday on the controversial Lopez Canyon Landfill by bolting from the council chambers, leaving too few council members for a quorum.

Bernardi, who represents the residents of the area around the dump, located above Lake View Terrace and Pacoima, succeeded in preventing the council from joining an appeal against restrictions on the landfill.

“If dumping in somebody’s back yard in Mission Canyon and Toyon Canyon is bad and wrong for people in those communities, then dumping in Lopez is also bad,” Bernardi said after the meeting, referring to dumps in more expensive neighborhoods.

“Those dumps were both closed because of resistance from people in the community. Do we have a form of apartheid when it comes to disposing of rubbish, where we treat one group of people entirely different than another group?”


The state Waste Management Board, after finding several unlawful practices at Lopez Canyon, ordered that the height and size of the dump be reduced and that the number of trucks that haul trash there each day be cut. It also indicated that it may reduce the amount of trash the landfill can accept from 4,000 to 3,100 tons a day.

Councilwoman Joy Picus asked the council to support an appeal against those restrictions, which the city Bureau of Sanitation plans to make at a meeting of the state board in Sacramento on Friday.

Bernardi Outraged

But Bernardi was outraged that neither he nor members of his district were notified of Picus’ motion in advance.


“It’s a despicable act, bringing this in at the last minute,” he shouted. “We’re being asked to validate some action where the city’s been violating the law.”

Two residents who live near the landfill and were at City Hall for other meetings were also angered after learning about the item accidentally.

“If you’re going to discuss our community, we should be notified,” protested Phyllis Hines.

In a July 7 letter, the state board accused the landfill of violating several provisions of its 1977 permit. It said the city exceeded the maximum height of 1,725 feet at the landfill, allowed 450 to 600 trucks per day to dump there, despite a limit of 400 trucks, and spilled garbage onto seven acres of U.S. Forest Service land.


The board directed the county’s Department of Health Services, which oversees operation of the dump, to order that the actions cease within 10 days.

Permit Amended

However, Deputy City Atty. Christopher Westhoff told the council that the 1977 permit was amended in 1983 to allow more dumping. A copy was sent to the state, and although it was never approved by the board, the dump has operated under those provisions without objections from the state ever since, he said.

“They’re changing the rules in the middle of the game,” Westhoff complained. “Who gives the solid Waste Management Board the right to deny history?”


Westhoff said the new restrictions would be impossible to meet and would result in the landfill being closed because the new limits would classify it as filled. He said that if the appeal to the board was not successful Friday, he would go to court Monday for an order to block the crackdown.

Picus predicted that significant reductions at Lopez Canyon would create a “waste disposal crisis for the city” and would place a severe burden on other landfills. After a contentious, hourlong debate on the issue during which several members were absent, Bernardi left the room. That left only nine of 15 council members remaining--too few to meet the legal minimum to take official action--and the meeting was adjourned.

Draft a Letter

Picus said later that she will draft a letter of support for the Bureau of Sanitation and expects most other council members to sign it. Bernardi said that he too will write a letter to the state board--supporting additional restrictions at the landfill--and may also attend Friday’s meeting in Sacramento.


Some council members used Wednesday’s debate on Lopez Canyon as a forum to criticize the Bureau of Sanitation, and in some cases the council itself, for not taking a more aggressive approach to solving the city’s growing trash problem. And although they said they sympathized with Bernardi and his constituents, they concluded that the city has few other options than to go on dumping in Lopez Canyon.

“This action is to protect the city’s legal rights,” Councilwoman Gloria Molina said of the Bureau of Sanitation’s appeal. “It would be improper to send them without backing from the city.”