Tentative Accord Reported on Reopening Valley Dump

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Los Angeles City Council and the owners of the Sunshine Canyon Landfill have reached a tentative agreement to settle a lengthy legal battle and clear the way to reopen the controversial dump near Granada Hills, sources said Wednesday.

City officials declined to comment on the agreement, but sources said it calls for Browning-Ferris Industries Inc. to drop a $400-million lawsuit against the city in exchange for the city allowing it to use a vital access road into the dump.

Officials would not release other details, pending final approval by both parties.

"It's not 100% settled, but we do have an agreement," said a participant in the negotiations, who asked to remain anonymous. "The major issues are settled. We still have to work on some minor issues."

Arnie Berghoff, a spokesman for Browning-Ferris, said that the council made an "affirmative vote to settle the litigation" and that further negotiations are expected to be held.

"I am optimistic that we can reach a final settlement with the city in the near term," he said.

Berghoff added that there are no other hurdles for his firm to clear and he expects the landfill to reopen within six months.

Sources said the council voted 8 to 5 to accept the settlement offer. Among those opposed to the agreement, sources said, were Councilman Hal Bernson, who represents the community near the dump, and Councilman Richard Alarcon, who is fighting his own battle to close the Lopez Canyon Landfill in Lake View Terrace.

The agreement was reached during a closed-door session of the council, sources said. Dour-faced opponents of the dump emerged from the executive session, refusing to comment.

Bernson, who has long fought the dump, said only: "I can't talk about it."

Neighbors and other landfill opponents decried the tentative settlement, saying they were betrayed because the council was afraid to challenge Browning-Ferris in court.

Mary Edwards, spokeswoman for the North Valley Coalition of Concerned Citizens, a group of residents opposed to the dump, said she has been told that Browning-Ferris offered the city low trash disposal fees to make the settlement.

"It's a bad dump day," Edwards said. "It's really sad to think the city would sell out."

Berghoff declined to say whether the agreement included special disposal fees for the city.

"That is part of the negotiations and I can't comment on that," he said.

The 215-acre site straddles the boundary between city and county property. The city closed the landfill on its side after the operating permit expired in 1991, but Browning-Ferris has since sought to expand the dump on the county side.

But the expansion was blocked when the city's Board of Zoning Appeals voted in March to prohibit Browning-Ferris from routing trash trucks through a privately owned road within the city limits. The board cited zoning restrictions and what board members considered a questionable record by Browning-Ferris when it operated the portion of the dump located in the city.

Browning-Ferris responded by filing a lawsuit against the city seeking about $400 million in lost revenue.

After the city closed Sunshine Canyon in 1991, the County Board of Supervisors voted to prohibit the city from dumping in the landfill unless the city would allow the dump to continue operating on its side. The Board of Supervisors is scheduled Thursday to consider lifting that ban.

Opponents of the dump said they are not done fighting and will put up other hurdles to keep the landfill from reopening.

Edwards said her group is prepared to sue the city to keep it from overturning the Board of Zoning Appeals decision. She said the board's decision was accurate and cannot be reversed simply to settle a lawsuit.

"The whole thing is blatantly wrong," she said.

Lynne Plambeck, chairperson of Landfill Alternatives Save Environmental Resources, or LASER, a coalition of landfill opponents, said there is a state geological report pending that may show that the landfill does not meet seismic safety standards adopted after the Northridge earthquake.

However, Berghoff said he is sure the landfill meets the standards. If it does not, he said Browning-Ferris is willing to make the necessary improvements.

"From our standpoint, we can build the best landfill that can be built," he said.

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