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Recyclers at Odds With Their Neighbors : Waste: A father and son turn yard clippings into mulch. But nearby residents complain about odors, and they are trying to close the operation.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The city’s landfills will never be the same if Nick Pavich Jr. and his father get their wish.

On a site in Sunland, the two operate a mulching operation that takes tree clippings, shrubs, wood and other green waste--which normally would be thrown away in a landfill--grinds it all up, then lets the mixture turn into compost.

They truck the compost to a worm farm near Simi Valley, where it’s fed to hungry red worms, which transform it into a rich soil additive used by farmers and landscapers.

“This is a necessity for future generations,” said Nick Pavich Jr., noting that 30% of the space in a landfill is taken up by yard waste. “It’s a shame to put it in landfills. It ought to be illegal.”

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But the Paviches’ environmentally conscientious recycling endeavor has angered their neighbors and left city officials in a quandary. The Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety issued an order in August requiring the Paviches to discontinue the mulching operation in the 9800 block of Wentworth Street.

They appealed to the office of the zoning administrator, which reviewed the case and last week issued a ruling upholding the Department of Building and Safety’s order.

“It’s a great concept,” said Associate Zoning Administrator Andrew B. Sincosky, who issued the ruling. “But our zoning regulations don’t deal with that particular issue.

“Our landfills are in a real state of crisis because we’re filling them with things that could be recycled,” he said.

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The Paviches’ operation is on land zoned for agricultural use, but according to the code, it should be in an industrial zone.

At the root of the problem, city officials say, is the absence of regulations specifically for these types of enterprises.

In November, 1989, the state Legislature passed AB 939, requiring all cities and counties to adopt a plan to reduce their solid waste by 25% in 1995 and 50% by 2000, said Joan Edwards, director of integrated solid waste management for the city Department of Public Works.

Unfortunately, the state did not provide guidelines for the day-to-day governing of such enterprises and the city code does not address mulching operations, Edwards said.

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“The zoning administrator, who is in charge of interpreting for us who can put facilities where, doesn’t have any guidance from his own zoning guidebook because 10 years ago, people weren’t focusing on this,” she said. “Ten years ago, people were saying, ‘Out of sight out of mind; put it at the curb and make it disappear.’ ”

The Worm Concern, the worm farm to which the Paviches take their mulch, had been ordered to shut down because it lacked the proper permits for a composting facility. But it was given a reprieve last month by the California Integrated Waste Management Board.

A Waste Management Board official, Robert Conheim, said the Worm Concern will be allowed to operate for at least another 18 months while the agency comes up with regulations for such businesses.

The new rules could eventually affect the Paviches’ operation. But complicating that issue is the anger of residents.

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Shortly after the Paviches set up their operation about a year ago, residents in the surrounding hillsides began to complain that the operation was noisy and emitted odors, resident William Saunders said.

“The odor that comes up here in the evening is very pungent,” he said. “It smells very bad. . . . It’s a very ugly thing to look down on.”

In a letter to the city zoning administrator, neighbors Ivan and Roberta Cole complained that they were “experiencing respiratory and general ill feelings and nausea from the foul garbage/chemical odors carried by their air currents from the dump site. Some are unable to use their air conditioning or heating because the odors are overcoming.”

According to the letter, 150 neighbors have signed a petition in opposition to the operation. But Nick Pavich Sr. heatedly denies the allegations of noise and smell, inviting a visitor to take a whiff.

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“This is pure, 100%,” he said, holding a handful of soil. “It comes from Mother Earth and goes back to Mother Earth . . . no chemicals, no toxic waste.”

In the past year, nearly 40 city officials from various offices have visited his lot at the request of the complaining neighbors, who he says have wrongly accused him of recycling garbage and metals and of using chemicals in his process.

“I’ve had building and safety, health inspectors, the police--you name it,” the elder Pavich said.

He said he is the victim in the simmering dispute.

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“It’s harassment,” he said, walking through the lot, which is dotted with mountains of wood and other forms of green waste. “I’m trying to make a decent living. Look at what I’m taking away from the landfills. Heck, I can do three times as much, but my hands are tied.”

The senior Pavich, 68, who has lived in the area all his life, said he attended a homeowners meeting to try to resolve the dispute. None of his neighbors accepted his offer to visit the site to see the operation for themselves.

“They’re a clique,” he said. “That homeowners association is a strong outfit. They don’t want anybody here. They want to keep this land for horses.”

Pavich said he has been “cursed out” by angry neighbors and is forced to patrol his lot at night out of fear that they may vandalize his operation.

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He has put plans to set up his own worm farm on the lot on hold until the flap is resolved.

“This is so new and recycling is such a necessity for communities that the law needs to be changed,” the younger Pavich said. “I don’t know what the city is going to do to meet their 939 commitment.”

The operation receives yard waste from the cities of Burbank, Glendale and Los Angeles.

The next step, the younger Pavich said, is to apply to the city for a conditional use permit, which the neighbors undoubtedly will oppose.

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“We have a quiet neighborhood,” Saunders said. “It’s not set up for this type of business. I wish them well, but I wish them well somewhere else, not in my back yard.”

In the meantime, the city recently held a green waste task force meeting to grapple with the problem and to find ways to avoid problems such as those experienced by the Paviches.

“This is serious,” Edwards said. “We’re running out of landfill space and we want people to recycle.”


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