L.A. Agrees to Settle Suit Over Sunshine Canyon : Trash: Browning-Ferris Industries Inc., operators of the Granada Hills landfill, will pay the city $3.2 million.
In the latest chapter of a long-running dispute, the Los Angeles City Council agreed Friday to settle its lawsuit against the operators of the Sunshine Canyon dump.
“We’re agreeing to cease our litigation,” Deputy City Atty. Keith Pritsker said. “We have a few details left to work out, but they’re pretty minor.”
Under the proposed settlement, Browning-Ferris Industries Inc., operators of the Granada Hills landfill, will pay the city $3.2 million for a “variety of purposes,” Pritsker said.
Part of the money, $1.2 million, will go toward paying the city’s legal expenses related to the lawsuit, $1 million will be used for community improvements in Granada Hills, and the remaining $1 million will be designated for community improvements in other areas of the city.
The settlement ended a legal argument between the city and BFI, but did not achieve the company’s long-range goal: to get permission to reopen the part of the dump that lies inside the city limits. The portion of the dump outside the boundary, on land under county government jurisdiction, is still in operation.
It did end city participation in a suit intended to block expansion of the dump in county territory, although a Granada Hills neighborhood group that was a partner in the suit said it would continue the legal battle against BFI.
The agreement, reached in a closed session of the City Council, did not please Councilman Hal Bernson, whose district includes the dump.
“Obviously I am disappointed because I’ve been a longtime opponent of the landfill,” Bernson said. “I guess the City Council was at the point where it had no place else to go. . . . We fought the best fight we could.”
Bernson said he was appalled and shocked by decisions of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the courts, which supported the operators of the landfill in their bid to reopen the closed city portion of the dump.
“I recognize the need for landfills, but we certainly don’t have to have them this close to homes . . . and we don’t have to destroy a forest of 8,000 oak trees that range in age from 200 to 500 years of age,” he said. “I think they should be ashamed of themselves.”
Ron Pfeifer, regional vice president of BFI, said there is a “difference of opinion,” on “the issue of what is actually out there and what has been disturbed.”
“It’s actually more of a scrub forest,” he said, rather than the pristine forest described by opponents of the landfill. “No matter how you slice it, NIMBY is really the issue. I think Hal has done an admirable job of defending his district. That’s his job.”
Pfeifer said BFI has spent millions mitigating the problems cited by opponents of the landfill, including a plan to plant three oak trees for every one felled.
“There’s a considerable amount of dollars--millions--that folks don’t realize were given up to mitigate the site,” he said.
In addition to the monetary agreement, BFI agreed not to accept refuse from outside the county so long as the city provides a minimum amount of its own refuse, which now goes to the part of the dump that lies in county jurisdiction.
“We obviously have an investment in there,” Pfeifer said. “What we wanted was the ability to fill that capacity that was to be used by the city with another source” if the city stopped sending trash there.
The North Valley Coalition of Concerned Citizens, which initially filed the lawsuit against BFI and was later joined by the city, has vowed to continue its fight against the dump.
“We just feel it’s a mistake to settle now, because so many environmental and public health issues are unresolved and the only thing that has kept the pressure on BFI has been the litigation,” said Rosemary Woodlock, the coalition’s attorney.
Woodlock argued that the city sold itself short, given the costs involved in the lawsuit and BFI’s profits.
“We are talking about an entity that will probably be making something close to $1 billion off of this landfill,” she said, adding that "$3 million is pretty cheap weighed against billions.”
The portion of the agreement that calls for the city to provide BFI a certain minimum level of trash is evidence that BFI’s previous claims of an impending “trash crisis” were bogus, Woodlock said.
The landfill has been closed since 1991, when the City Council refused to renew its zoning permit. Since then, the North Valley Coalition of Concerned Citizens has waged a legal war against the dump.
Currently, work to expand the dump portion on county land is at a standstill while the coalition appeals the latest ruling.
The agreement does not end BFI’s battles with the city. In order to complete its planned expansion onto adjacent county land, the company must obtain a permit, known as a variance, from the city zoning administrator. The variance would allow the company to use an access road for construction trucks and later for trash trucks. Currently, the land is zoned for agricultural use.
“The City Council did not agree to grant a variance,” Pritsker said. "(BFI) will have to go through the variance procedure.”
Pfeifer said the company was “still at issue over whether (the variance) is required,” but would apply for it anyway.
Although the city and BFI have reached proposed settlements before--only to have those settlements fall through--this time “we appear to have a meeting of the minds on both sides that we’ve never had before,” Pritsker said.
“I think we’re finally at the state where there appears to be an agreement on all sides,” he said. ". . . The council has devoted a lot of time and effort to trying to resolve this matter.”
The settlement is expected to be finalized next week, Pritsker said.