Lopez Canyon Dump Foes Brace for Bitter Fight
As the Los Angeles City Council prepares to decide the fate of the Lopez Canyon Landfill next month, opponents of the controversial dump are taking off the gloves and preparing to wage a tough fight in their campaign to shut it down.
The long-brewing debate over the city-owned dump is expected to come to a head Dec. 13, when the council considers whether to close it when its operating permit expires in February or extend operation for up to five more years.
Councilman Richard Alarcon has taken the lead in the fight to shut down the 400-acre facility in his northeast San Fernando Valley district and has already launched a battle plan.
The plan includes efforts to lobby his colleagues, organize community residents and challenge estimates that say the city could save millions by extending the life of the dump instead of hiring private firms to dispose of its trash elsewhere.
But it’s already clear that this is a fight in which sensitive egos will not be spared.
Take Alarcon’s repeated attacks on the Bureau of Sanitation officials who have estimated that the city could save $55.7 million by extending the dump until 2001 instead of shipping the city’s trash to private dumps.
He claims the savings are much less, perhaps $20 million at the most, and has publicly accused bureau officials of cooking the numbers to protect their empire.
“I think the bureau is covering up,” Alarcon charges.
Bureau representatives deny that they are involved in any kind of cover-up and say they are simply providing the estimates that Alarcon has asked for.
Alarcon is not the only elected official to take out the heavy artillery. Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sylmar), another vocal opponent of the dump, joined Alarcon in attacking a council panel that recommended a five-year extension last week for the landfill.
Katz fired off a letter this week to state Atty. Gen. Daniel Lungren, asking him to investigate the council’s Environmental Quality and Waste Management Committee for allegedly violating the state’s open meeting law when it made the recommendation.
He charged that the committee failed to notify the public of the action in its agenda, thereby violating a provision of the Ralph M. Brown Act that requires prior public notice of all such decisions.
“I find these actions by officials in the city of Los Angeles deeply troubling,” Katz said in the letter. “That is why I request that the Department of Justice investigate this blatant violation of the public trust.”
The city attorney’s office has already investigated the charge and concluded that no violation occurred because the agenda for the meeting said the panel would discuss recycling and landfill issues.
Nonetheless, when Councilman Marvin Braude, who heads the committee, tried to explain his recommendation during a recent council meeting, Alarcon fired back at him.
Braude began by noting that the city would somehow have to pay for the additional cost of hauling trash to a private firm if the landfill were closed.
“That’s garbage,” said Alarcon, who sits three seats way from Braude in the council’s meeting chambers.
“You have to figure out how to raise $55.7 million,” Braude continued.
“If you had taken a better look at it you would have known better,” Alarcon responded.
“Let’s look at the reality . . . " Braude said.
“Yeah, let’s look at the reality,” responded Alarcon sarcastically.
Behind the scenes, Alarcon and other landfill opponents are taking other measures to close the dump.
Sandy Hubbard, president of the Lake View Terrace Improvement Assn., a homeowners group near the dump, said hundreds of landfill opponents from throughout the city are geared up for the battle.
She said her group is helping collect signatures on a petition and plans to launch a telephone campaign next week to urge the council to close the dump. The group will also pressure Mayor Richard Riordan to weigh in on their side.
“The heat will be on the mayor as well,” Hubbard said.
Residents like Hubbard are particularly steamed about the extension proposal because city officials promised no further extensions when they approved a five-year extension of the dump in 1991.
“We believe the promise is binding,” she said.
On another front, Alarcon’s environmental deputy, Woody Hastings, has been meeting with other council members and their staff to give them Alarcon’s view on the issue.
He said he has been trying to show how the Bureau of Sanitation’s estimate is wrong.
For example, when calculating how much private firms would charge the city to dispose of trash, Hastings said, the Bureau of Sanitation erroneously overestimated the amount the firms pay in state and local fees. That error, he said, made the estimated cost of using a private firm about $20 million higher than it actually is.
“It seems they have garbled the information,” he said of the bureau.
To lay to rest the debate over the cost estimates, the offices of the chief legislative analyst and city administrative officer have been assigned to double-check the bureau’s estimate. A report is expected next week.
But getting the council to close the dump in February may not be an easy task.
The city Planning Commission has already approved a Bureau of Sanitation proposal to keep the landfill open until February, 1997. To overturn that decision, at least 10 of the 15 council members must vote for the closure. With the holidays at hand, some City Hall insiders wonder if the council can even get 10 members to show up for a meeting.
Most of the council members said this week that they have yet to decide how they will vote. So far, Braude is the only council member to publicly take a stand for the extension. Several others, including Councilman Mike Hernandez, Hal Bernson and Alarcon, have said they oppose an extension.
“I don’t know what the cost of keeping our word is but we ought to be prepared to keep our word,” Bernson said.
Others, such as Councilwomen Laura Chick and Jackie Goldberg, have not taken a position but have publicly said they fear that closing the dump could leave the city at the mercy of private firms.
But even if landfill opponents can’t get enough votes, they have backup plans.
Alarcon said he has already approached Riordan about vetoing any council decision to extend the dump’s life. Riordan’s communications deputy, Steve Sugerman, confirmed that Riordan has been lobbied by Alarcon and sanitation officials on the issue but said the mayor has yet to take a stand.
The Lake View Terrace Improvement Assn. has also retained an attorney who is studying the possibility of filing a legal challenge if the landfill is extended.
Hubbard said residents around the landfill feel an extension would break the city’s promise to close the dump in February and believe they can challenge an extension in court on that basis.
In addition, she said the attorney is studying whether residents around the landfill have been physically damaged by the release of methane gas from the dump or have suffered lower property values because of the dump.
“We do have families who have suffered a direct cause and effect,” she said.