2 Homeowner Groups Suspend Landfill Fund Suit

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two East Valley homeowner groups have decided to suspend their lawsuit challenging Councilman Ernani Bernardi's use of Lopez Canyon Landfill trust funds for an anti-gang program because he has decided to locate the program's headquarters closer to their neighborhoods in the Hansen Dam area.

Bernardi's chief deputy, however, said Thursday that the selection of the site for the program's facilities--which is still not final--was not based on satisfying any claims in the lawsuit.

David Mays, Bernardi's chief deputy, said if the tentative site--at Osborne Street and Glenoaks Boulevard in Pacoima, near Lake View Terrace--does not work out for any reason, then Bernardi will look for another site. Previously, sites in Pacoima had been discussed.

"The lawsuit has not had any effect upon the site that the councilman chooses because we are looking at the needs of the entire community," Mays said.

The homeowners see it differently.

"There has been no agreement reached with Councilman Bernardi, but he has absolutely taken some action as a result of the lawsuit," Lew Snow, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said.

In 1991, the City Council agreed to fund a five-year, $5-million trust in exchange for expanding the dump. More than $1.5 million has already been approved for various projects, including improvements at Lake View Terrace Recreation Center and Fenton Avenue School.

The Lake View Terrace Homeowners Assn., Kagel Canyon Civic Assn. and some individual homeowners filed suit against the city and Bernardi in August to stop him from taking $700,000 from the landfill trust and using it to pay for an anti-gang program planned for Pacoima. The City Council in April approved the expenditure.

In their lawsuit, the homeowner groups argued that the trust was set up for "amenities such as recreational facilities, tree planting and recycling for those members of the community directly impacted by the presence of the landfill."

The homeowners argued that most of Pacoima is not in the "direct vicinity of the landfill . . . nor does the program have any relationship to the conditions created by the landfill which the amenities fund was designed to ameliorate."

A hearing on the matter was scheduled for Oct. 16 in Los Angeles Superior Court, but an attorney for the homeowners, Michael S. Magnuson, said he has removed the suit from the court calendar--but has not withdrawn it--because of Bernardi's decision to locate the program's activities closer to Lake View Terrace.

Despite the denial by Bernardi's chief deputy that the lawsuit had any effect on that decision, some homeowners contend that was indeed the primary reason.

"Let the record show that it was only after the filing of the lawsuit that Councilman Bernardi amended his motion to move it from Pacoima to Lake View Terrace," said Rob Zapple, president of the Kagel Canyon Civic Assn.

"Absolutely, it was our action that encouraged and urged Mr. Bernardi to relocate this project to the Lake View Terrace area."

Said Snow: "Since the lawsuit was filed, Bernardi's office has been looking for a site, and the one they selected was definitely not one of their first three choices."

Still, Mays maintains that the lawsuit was not a factor, and notes that the city attorney has filed a strongly worded response to the lawsuit arguing that that it has no basis.

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