Landfill Crisis Is Averted--Temporarily


Sanitation officials said approval this week of two big dump expansions in the San Fernando Valley should ease what they have called an impending landfill crisis but not eliminate the need for new dumps to serve Los Angeles County in the coming years.

In a lengthy report last summer, sanitation officials warned of possible interruptions in trash service by the end of this year because of bottlenecks at a dwindling number of dumps.

Steve Maguin, chief of solid waste management for the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts, said Wednesday that risk appears to have been pushed back two years by expansions granted for the Sunshine Canyon Landfill above Granada Hills and the city-owned Lopez Canyon Landfill above Lake View Terrace.

On Wednesday, the Los Angeles City Council voted to allow trash dumping in a tributary canyon of the Lopez dump, which is running out of space in its current dumping area. The approval means up to 4,000 tons of trash per day will be dumped there for the next five years.


On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to allow disposal of an additional 17 million tons of trash at the Sunshine Canyon Landfill owned by Browning-Ferris Industries. The company will be allowed to dump up to 8,000 tons of trash per day at the landfill for up to 10 years. The Sunshine dump had been expected to cease operations next fall. The landfill straddles the city-county line, and Browning-Ferris hopes to win city approval to also expand the dump on the city portion of its property.

“We’ve bought two years from the two decisions,” Maguin said. He called the approvals “an important first step in averting the crisis” that would result from trash trucks missing scheduled pickups because of long lines at remaining landfills.

There are 10 major public and private landfills in the county, some of which will be filled or have their permits expire in the next several years.

Sanitation officials said other issues still cloud the outlook. One is the question of whether Browning-Ferris will be able to prepare the new dumping area and obtain all needed permits in time for the closure of its current disposal area next fall. Another is the possibility of legal action by homeowner and environmental activists and City Councilman Hal Bernson, who denounced the Sunshine Canyon approval.


Another problem, officials said, is a court ruling that may suspend operations at Browning-Ferris’ Azusa Western Landfill in Azusa on environmental grounds. Landfill capacity forecasts had assumed that dump would be available to take thousands of tons of trash per day.

On the other hand, the bad economy will have a positive effect on landfill capacity. “The only silver lining on the cloud of the economy is a recession makes for lower waste levels,” Maguin said.

Environmental and community activists have long been skeptical of dump capacity forecasts. “I think it was scare tactics to get the approval of these dumps,” said Mary Edwards, a member of the North Valley Coalition that fought the Sunshine Canyon expansion.

“Everyone believes that they’re going to have piles of garbage on their front walks and nobody to pick it up, and consequently it was a rush to judgment,” she said.


Even with effective recycling programs and expansion of existing dumps, sanitation officials say the county will need a major new landfill by the year 2000, a second one by about 2010 and a third before 2040.

One of these could be in Elsmere Canyon east of the city of Santa Clarita, where a joint city-county landfill has been proposed.

County officials have also identified three other potential dump sites that are also being sought by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy for preservation as parkland. They are Blind Canyon above Chatsworth, Towsley Canyon near Santa Clarita and the Rustic-Sullivan-Mission canyon complex in the Santa Monica Mountains south of Mulholland Drive.