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Residents Again Urge Officials to Close Dump at Lopez Canyon

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Lake View Terrace and Kagel Canyon residents, speaking at a hearing Saturday attended by scores of anti-dump activists, once again called on air pollution officials to close the Lopez Canyon Landfill until toxic gas emissions are controlled.

The speakers also asked the hearing board of the South Coast Air Quality Management District to impose conditions on the dump’s operations, including banning recyclable trash at the dump and limiting the number of truck trips per day at the landfill.

“This is about more than just shutting down Lopez,” said Michael Wilson, 33, a Kagel Canyon resident who wore a gas mask and a homemade suit made of melted plastics to the hearing. “This is what we’re all going to be wearing if something isn’t done.”

James D. Joyce, a hearing board member, initially asked that Wilson be removed from the room or take off his gas mask. But other board members and residents protested and Wilson was allowed to stay.

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The all-day hearing at the Lake View Terrace Recreation Center was the second the board has held in the community to receive testimony about alleged violations of state air pollution control laws at the northeast San Fernando Valley dump, which is owned and operated by the city of Los Angeles. The board, a quasi-judicial panel, usually meets at the AQMD’s headquarters in El Monte.

Earlier last week, Deputy City Atty. Christopher Westhoff, representing the city’s Bureau of Sanitation, compared the sometimes noisy, emotional crowd at the first hearing April 27 to a “lynch mob.”

At the beginning of Saturday’s hearing, Harold V. Brown, hearing board chairman, ordered residents not to applaud, cheer or boo. “There was too much of a carnival atmosphere last week,” he said. “I won’t tolerate that.”

The residents complied with Brown’s instructions. But Fred Taylor, the first resident to speak, said Westhoff has a “cavalier and arrogant attitude about a serious problem.” He called Brown’s reprimand of the community “unfair.”

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Taylor, president of a community group called Focus ’90, said the crowd’s reaction April 27 was prompted by outbursts from Westhoff, who said that day he would not be available to attend Saturday.

Although Westhoff was present at Saturday’s hearing, he refused to present the city’s witnesses. He said the witnesses would be subjected to “a hostile atmosphere” at a meeting in the Lake View Terrace area.

At 4 p.m., more than 20 residents had yet to testify and the board scheduled another hearing at 1 p.m. on May 25 at the Dexter Park Recreation Center in Kagel Canyon. The board also scheduled a June 8 hearing in El Monte to hear testimony of city witnesses.

Residents and elected officials representing the area--including Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sylmar) and Councilman Ernani Bernardi--have said the city was ordered in August to bring methane gas emissions into compliance with state law by January. They said that as recently as April, however, emissions were measured at 10,000 parts per million, far above the 500 p.p.m. allowed under state law.

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Westhoff told the board Saturday that the city already is in compliance with an Aug. 2 hearing board order because it has installed 43 gas collection wells to control the emission. He said no one expected the wells to work immediately. “It takes as long as six months or longer for a gas collection system to stabilize.”

Westhoff said the city also will install 250 more wells and should be in “substantial compliance” with the order by August.

The provision that stipulates the city comply by January is “ambiguous” and needs clarification, Joyce and other board members said. Joyce said that when the order was issued, he had expected that the city would be in compliance with state law by January.

Jill Ratner, staff attorney for Citizens for a Better Environment, said her organization supports the community’s request that the city be forced to control methane gas emissions or close down.

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To mitigate future problems with toxic gas, Ratner suggested reducing the number of trucks that are allowed to haul garbage to the landfill each day and limiting the types of rubbish allowed to be dumped at the site. She also said massive citywide recycling and composting problems would help.

“I’ve seen better-operated landfills in Third World countries,” said Mike Dow, a retired engineer who lives at the Blue Star Mobile Home Park near the landfill. He said the city promised in 1972 to control toxic gas emissions and has yet to do so.

Mitch Mullan, a Kagel Canyon resident, said the city also is violating other provisions of last year’s order. He said the city is not inspecting the amount of gas emissions as often as called for in the order and has failed to install a 24-hour hot line to accept residents’ complaints.

“The surrounding communities are being held hostage while the city is coming into compliance with the law,” he said.

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