The West Covina council race boiled down to a longstanding and politically volatile question: when should the BKK landfill shut down? Voters sent City Hall a clear answer Tuesday; they want the trash trucks off their streets by November, 1995.
That's exactly what the election's victors, incumbent Steve Herfert and candidate Michael Touhey, have vowed to achieve. Their votes on the five-member council, plus at least one other from Councilman Brad McFadden, who is committed to closing BKK next year, will likely ensure that the city will continue its costly legal battle aimed at forcing BKK's closure in 1995.
No compromise, Herfert said.
He and Touhey, the 31-year-old owner of a drive-through dairy in West Covina, each led their opponents, Mayor Richard Jennings and Stuart York, by more than 1,000 votes. Jennings and York had argued during the campaign that the city can't afford to lose BKK, the town's largest tax-revenue producer.
"Obviously, people want the landfill to close soon and they won't let a major corporation buy an election in their city," Herfert said, referring to BKK's intense advertising blitz during the campaign. "It was an election about the future of a city. The choices were continued dependency on a landfill or closing it in 1995 and moving on."
In full-page newspaper ads and cable television commercials, BKK painted Herfert and Touhey as irresponsible financial managers while touting the company's revenue and charitable contributions to the city.
Jennings, who is retired, and York, a city planning commissioner, wanted the city to negotiate a compromise closure date with BKK, whereby the dump would cease operation between 1995 and 2006, the year BKK's city-issued operating permit expires.
In 1985, BKK signed a memorandum of understanding with the city, promising to close the dump in November, 1995. But BKK officials argue the two parties also agreed that BKK would need an alternative source of revenue, such as an industrial park, at the site before it could afford to close the dump.
The city has set aside $1.3 million to fight BKK in court this fiscal year, arguing that BKK never got serious about developing anything on its land except creating more landfill space. Jennings and York maintain that the city, which is struggling to wean itself off $3 million to $4 million in annual tax revenue from BKK, needs more time to find alternative revenue.
West Covina is facing an estimated $2.3 million deficit in the 1994-95 budget.
"The outcome of this election means perception is larger than reality," Jennings said early Wednesday after final vote tallies were released. "This election doesn't mean the dump will close in 1995.