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Landfill Firm Helped Fund City, County Campaigns

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Browning-Ferris Industries, which is seeking approval to expand its Sunshine Canyon Landfill above Granada Hills to allow dumping there for another 50 years, has contributed more than $100,000 since 1985 to campaign committees of the Los Angeles County supervisors, City Council and mayor, a Times review of campaign records shows.

In addition to the $106,212 donated by the waste disposal company, law firms, lobbyists and consultants working for BFI gave an additional $193,610 to the elected officials--for a total of $299,822 from 1985 through 1989.

BFI’s lawyers and consultants have other clients with business before the city and county, so their donations aren’t connected solely with the Sunshine Canyon expansion. Even so, the nearly $300,000 given by BFI and the others represents literally hundreds of separate contributions by more than a dozen firms promoting expansion of the Sunshine dump.

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In addition, during 1989, BFI consultants organized small, private fund-raising breakfasts and dinners for four City Council members, each of whom received campaign contributions from seven to 10 members of the BFI team.

“They’ve been throwing a lot of money around,” said Mary Edwards of the North Valley Coalition, a homeowner group that has fought expansion of the dump. “It seems every place we go” at City Hall, BFI has “been there first with money,” she said.

BFI has a vast stake in the proposed expansion, which could generate billions of dollars in revenue for the firm over the next half-century. The expansion has been opposed by neighborhood groups, because it would destroy thousands of trees and extend the life of a dump they say has created dust and blowing trash.

The landfill operates within the city, but county and city approval are needed because BFI’s property straddles the city-county boundary and the firm wants to expand on both sides of the line. Some elected officials have said they support the expansion because of dwindling space in existing landfills.

The county expansion is to be considered today by the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission and will be taken up later by the Board of Supervisors.

The leading recipient of BFI contributions has been County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, whose district encompasses the landfill. Antonovich received $21,250 from BFI, or one-fifth of all contributions from the waste disposal firm and its officials. An aide said Antonovich’s contributors “are buying his program and philosophy of government, he is not buying theirs.”

Supervisor Pete Schabarum, whose district includes BFI’s other big Los Angeles County dump, the Azusa Western Landfill, was the second leading beneficiary, receiving $15,650 in contributions from BFI. Schabarum, whose district gets the bulk of the county’s trash, has opposed expansion of the Azusa dump due to concern about ground water pollution, while supporting landfill expansions in other areas, including Sunshine Canyon.

Campaign contributions have “nothing to do with how he . . . votes,” said Schabarum senior deputy Judy Hammond. She said Schabarum has been a “driving force . . . to establish new landfills throughout L.A. County.”

Supervisor Deane Dana got $12,500 from BFI, and Mayor Tom Bradley, $6,262.

By contrast, City Councilman Hal Bernson, who represents Granada Hills and has opposed expansion of the dump, received no money from BFI.

The impact of contributions on specific decisions is a matter of debate. At a minimum, critics say, campaign giving builds good will, giving well-heeled contributors a political advantage over ordinary citizens. Contributors and officeholders generally say the impact is minimal, since a large contributor still accounts for a tiny percentage of campaign receipts.

“There are only so many spots on an elected official’s calendar,” and campaign giving merely assures access to decision-makers, said Mark Ryavec of Delphi Associates, a BFI consultant.

And with the existing dump at Sunshine Canyon “hanging on by its fingernails,” Ryavec said, it is “just ludicrous to suggest that Browning-Ferris . . . has any impact on what’s occurred in the decision-making process.”

BFI has taken its lumps from neighborhood activists and Bernson, and its treatment by the City Council has been mixed. Still, BFI won two key political victories in 1989, a year of stepped-up campaign giving in which more than a dozen firms involved in the proposed expansion made campaign contributions.

Last summer, the City Council granted BFI relief from a previous decision by zoning officials that would have virtually closed the dump at the end of 1989 because of zoning violations. The council instead gave BFI the right to continue using the current disposal area through June, 1990, by which time the firm is supposed to be dumping in an area farther from nearby homes. The action followed a sophisticated phone bank and direct mail campaign in support of the landfill.

And of greater long-term importance for BFI, the supervisors and City Council endorsed the expansion in principle through language inserted in a “memorandum of cooperation” on development of a city-county landfill at nearby Elsmere Canyon.

In the memorandum, the city and county agreed not only to develop Elsmere but to work toward permitting expansion of Sunshine on both sides of the city-county line that divides the BFI property. At the county’s insistence, the city agreed to a clause that could temporarily bar city trucks from the new county area of the dump if the city failed to approve expansion on its side of the line.

The endorsement raised eyebrows among opponents because officials usually avoid endorsing controversial projects before public hearings and environmental review. In the case of Sunshine Canyon, a public hearing on the proposed county expansion had not been held, and the application for city-side expansion had not even been filed.

In interviews since, county and city officials have said they are trying to head off a “trash crisis,” rather than help BFI.

“It has nothing to do with running interference for BFI,” said Dennis Morefield, an aide to Dana. “It has strictly to do with the . . . need for adequate landfill capacity to serve Los Angeles County throughout for the next several decades.”

The 230-acre landfill takes about 6,000 tons of trash per day, or nearly one-seventh of the solid waste in Los Angeles County. Space is expected to be exhausted by September, 1991. If county and city expansions are approved, BFI will be able to fill additional canyon areas with an additional 215 million tons of trash.

Dump fees are almost certain to rise, but if BFI continued to charge its disposal rates of between $24 and $31 per ton, the 215 million tons translates into more than $5 billion in revenue over the life of the dump. BFI has declined to provide a revenue estimate.

Of the $106,212 contributed by BFI alone, $63,400 went to the five supervisors, and $42,812 to Mayor Tom Bradley and members of the City Council. Donations to city officeholders included $7,500 to Citizens for a Livable Los Angeles, a committee controlled by Councilmen Zev Yaroslavsky and Marvin Braude that fought Occidental Petroleum’s plan to drill for oil in the Pacific Palisades.

The BFI team includes an array of influential law firms, lobbyists and land-use consultants. The lawyers and law firms--led by Latham & Watkins; Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue; and Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker--gave $135,002 to city and county officials from 1985 through 1989, with half of that coming from Latham & Watkins.

The land-use and community relations consulting firm of Handelman & Katherman and its partners Ira Handelman and Rob Katherman gave $21,391.

Maureen Kindel, former president of the city Board of Public Works and a key Bradley fund-raiser, is one of BFI’s lobbyists. Kindel and others at her firm, Rose & Kindel Inc., contributed $14,125.

Other contributors included Ryavec and Delphi Associates, $6,722, and political consultant Lynn Wessell, $4,600.

These firms have been political fixtures, with long-standing relationships with supervisors and council members that predate the proposed dump expansion.

But other contributors in the BFI group got into the act last year as the project approached a critical stage.

BFI’s geotechnical consultant, Purcell, Rhoades & Associates, which is based in Hayward in Northern California, had not contributed before last year to Los Angeles officeholders, a review of campaign records shows.

But in 1989, Purcell, Rhoades made seven contributions totaling $3,500. Antonovich and Supervisor Deane Dana each got $1,000, and five council members got $500 apiece--the most a single contributor can give in county and city elections.

Similarly, Irvine-based Ultrasystems Engineers, which prepared the environmental impact report on the proposed dump expansion, before last year had made a single contribution of $200 to a council member, campaign reports show. But in 1989, Ultrasystems donated $2,500--$1,000 to Dana, $500 to Antonovich, $500 to Supervisor Ed Edelman, and $500 to Councilman Michael Woo.

“I don’t think it affects the outcome of what happens in any respect,” said H. Randall Stoke of Latham & Watkins, a lobbyist for BFI, referring to campaign giving.

Stoke said he did not know if it would hurt not to give, but added, “I’m scared to find out.”

One BFI consultant, who spoke on the condition that he not be identified, said campaign giving “is the only way you can do business in this town.” Another said council members all “have their hand out at one time or another . . . , so you give . . . and remain their friend, it’s as simple as that.”

But the BFI team last year did more than just respond to appeals for money. It also put together small fund-raisers for council members.

Last Feb. 24, for example, Ryavec organized a fund-raising breakfast for Woo at which Woo raised $3,250 from seven contributors involved with the Sunshine Canyon project. Six separate contributors--BFI; BFI Vice President Michael Lawlor; Delphi Associates; Ultrasystems; Purcell, Rhoades; and Paul, Hastings--gave the legal maximum of $500, and Stoke of Latham & Watkins gave $250. Maureen Kindel also gave Woo $500 three days earlier, according to campaign records.

Last March 23, Handelman & Katherman organized a fund-raising breakfast for Yaroslavsky that brought eight contributions totaling $4,000 from BFI; Handelman & Katherman; Delphi Associates; Jones, Day; Purcell, Rhoades; and Paul, Hastings. Later last spring was when BFI donated the $7,500 to Citizens for a Livable Los Angeles, the Yaroslavsky-Braude committee fighting oil development in the Pacific Palisades. A BFI official said the contribution was made at the suggestion of Ryavec, who was active in the anti-oil fight.

Last April 4, Ryavec organized a dinner for Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores that brought nine contributions totaling $4,000 from BFI; Ryavec; Rose & Kindel; Handelman & Katherman; Paul, Hastings; Jones, Day; and Purcell, Rhoades.

And on Dec. 20, Kindel put together a fund-raising breakfast for Councilman Richard Alatorre that brought in $5,000--10 donations of $500 each from the BFI team. Even BFI’s consulting forester, Ralph Osterling Consultants Inc. of San Mateo, chipped in $500. And Ryavec made a small donation to Alatorre’s “Feliz Navidad” program of Christmas parties in his district.

Ryavec said these events were organized largely as alternatives to big fund-raisers to which some of the contributors were invited. “I would much rather sit down in a small group setting as opposed to being part of some big cattle herd,” Ryavec said.

“If you’re going to give a donation, you might as well get something out of it besides a bad piece of chicken,” another BFI consultant said.

Flores and Alatorre said through aides that they decide issues on their merits and not because of campaign contributions.

Woo told The Times: “I was running for reelection. They offered to put on this breakfast, and I am aware of that fact, . . . but that’s only one of the facts that I have to consider.” The other facts are “the position of the councilman of the district and the position of the neighbors who live near the landfill and the pressing need” to deal with “the garbage created by the city.”

Yaroslavsky said BFI has “known pretty much from the start that my views have been for neighborhood and community protection, not for the expansion of that dump. And that’s where I stand, whether or not they host a breakfast for me.”

Political contributions “do not always achieve the desired result,” but “citizens have to ask why is this being done,” said Tony Cosby-Rossmann, attorney for the anti-dump North Valley Coalition.

“I certainly feel uncomfortable knowing that the three law firms opposing me and their client are contributing so much.”

Times researchers Cecilia Rasmussen and Laine Courtney contributed to this report.

CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS Chart shows 1985-89 contributions made to public officials by BFI and others. Others* refers to contributions made by lawyers, lobbyists and consultants working on Sunshine Canyon Landfill.

BOARD OF SUPERVISORS

BFI Total officials Others* contributions Mike Antonovich $21,250 $33,330 $54,580 Deane Dana 12,500 25,025 37,525 Ed Edelman 5,000 7,550 12,550 Kenneth Hahn 9,000 2,800 11,800 Pete Schabarum 15,650 10,600 26,250

MAYOR AND CITY COUNCIL

BFI Total officials Others* contributions Mayor Tom Bradley 6,262 17,720 23,982 Richard Alatorre 1,500 13,850 15,350 Ernani Bernardi 1,500 3,000 4,500 Hal Bernson 0 8,725 8,725 Marvin Braude 0 1,500 1,500 Robert Farrell 2,000 4,200 6,200 John Ferraro 4,500 5,200 9,700 Joan M. Flores 3,050 7,000 10,050 Ruth Galanter 0 1,250 1,250 Nate Holden 2,500 3,600 6,100 Gilbert Lindsay 2,200 7,925 10,125 Gloria Molina 1,000 6,000 7,000 Joy Picus 2,100 3,250 5,350 Joel Wachs 500 1,500 2,000 Michael Woo 4,200 10,300 14,500 Zev Yaroslavsky 500 4,585 5,085

FORMER COUNCIL MEMBERS

BFI Total officials Others* contributions David Cunningham 500 500 1,000 (resigned 1986) Howard Finn 0 1,200 1,200 (died 1986) Pat Russell 1,000 11,500 12,500 (defeated 1987) Peggy Stevenson 2,000 700 2,700 (defeated 1985)

MISCELLANEOUS

BFI Total officials Others* contributions Citizens for a 7,500 800 8,300 Livable Los Angeles Totals 106,212 193,610 299,822


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