Council OKs Expansion of Lopez Canyon Dump, Imposes 22 Conditions


The Los Angeles City Council voted Wednesday to expand the city’s huge Lopez Canyon Landfill, but will spend $5 million on amenities for its neighbors to ease the pain of living next to a dump.

The council, faced with the ever-mounting problem of where to put the city’s Gargantuan garbage output, unanimously approved an expansion permit, imposing 22 conditions to limit the dump’s contents and combat gas leaks and other long-running health complaints from neighbors.

Councilman Ernani Bernardi, who represents the area, called the council’s action a good deal for residents of Lake View Terrace, the community that abuts the 392-acre landfill where almost a quarter of the city’s garbage output is dumped daily.

“Compared with where we were two years ago, this is a major victory for the community,” agreed Rob Zapple, leader of a group of homeowners in the adjoining rustic Kagel Canyon neighborhood who opposed the landfill expansion.


Controversy about noise, odors and wind-blown litter has dogged the Lopez Canyon Landfill, the only city-owned dump, for several years.

Last year, state air pollution authorities ordered the city to pay $150,000 in penalties because of repeated leaks of methane gas generated by decomposing garbage, including incidents in which workers were overcome by fumes. In another attempt to solve the problem, the city last September also agreed to spend $3.2 million to improve the landfill’s equipment for collecting and burning the methane.

The expansion permit was adopted without debate on a 14-0 vote and sent to Mayor Tom Bradley for his signature.

In granting the permit, the council imposed an unusual set of conditions on the city’s own Bureau of Sanitation, the landfill operator.


One requires the city to establish a $5-million fund to pay for numerous amenities, including tree plantings and recreational facilities, for the dump’s neighbors. The fund, sometimes called “conscience money” by observers, is to be administered by Bernardi’s office.

Another committed the city to operating a five-year program, costing $2.5 million per year, to keep hazardous household wastes--such as motor oil, fingernail polish and paint--out of Lopez Canyon. The program will enable residents throughout the city to legally dispose of their hazardous wastes at toxic dump sites.

State laws prohibit dumping such material in ordinary landfills like Lopez Canyon, but critics have said the city household hazardous waste disposal program is so haphazard that many residents have no option but to surreptitiously dump their toxic materials in with their regular garbage--which may go to Lopez Canyon.

Lopez Canyon has been used as a dump since 1975, and at its busiest in the mid-1980s, 6,000 tons of refuse per day were dumped there.


By its action Wednesday, the council approved a permit to allow 4,000 tons of garbage to be dumped daily into a 50-acre offshoot of Lopez Canyon, called Canyon C, for the next five years. The canyon has not previously been a dump site.

The city’s Bureau of Sanitation originally had sought a 20-year permit to dump up to 7,200 tons per day.

Mike Miller, a top official with the Bureau of Sanitation, said the city has voluntarily been dumping only about 4,000 tons per day at the canyon for several years. The remainder of the 5,500 to 6,000 tons of trash collected daily by the bureau’s crews is dumped at private landfills, including Bradley West in Sun Valley and a county-owned site in Calabasas.

City residents and businesses generate about 18,000 tons of trash daily, Miller said. Trash from businesses and apartment buildings accounts for two-thirds of the total garbage but is collected by private trash collectors. Only refuse collected by city crews is dumped at Lopez.


Other conditions imposed by Wednesday’s action limit the landfill’s height upon completion to 1,770 feet above sea level, prohibit the dumping of sewage sludge, mandate selection of an independent official to monitor the city’s compliance with the conditions and require an annual review by the city’s Planning Commission of the operation.

While acknowledging that the dump once had a reputation as a rogue elephant operation, Miller said it is now a “showcase for how a landfill should be run.” Lopez Canyon is “probably one of the most closely watched landfills in all of Southern California,” Miller added. “It’s gotten a tremendous amount of attention.”

Commenting on the council action, which capped months of debate and often rancorous public hearings, Phyllis Hines, a leader of the Lake View Terrace Improvement Assn., said: “We’d have liked to have closed down the dump altogether. But it’s not realistic.”

Over the years, Bernardi has repeatedly complained to his council colleagues about the unique burden he contends is borne by his constituents because of the landfill.


A frequent Bernardi complaint has been that residents of the ethnically mixed, blue-collar neighborhood lack the socioeconomic clout needed to win battles in City Hall, in contrast to the well-to-do Bel-Air and Brentwood residents who managed in the early 1980s to shut down the neighboring Mission Canyon landfill, and the environmental activists who got the city to close Toyon Canyon landfill in Griffith Park.