City Board, Council Clash Over Landfill


Setting the stage for a potential clash with the Los Angeles City Council, the Board of Public Works voted Friday to include the owners of the Sunshine Canyon Landfill in negotiations for a long-term city trash disposal contract.

The decision angered some San Fernando Valley council members who oppose doing business with Browning-Ferris Industries, the owners of Sunshine Canyon, because they say it is uncertain when or if the dump will reopen.

The council members are also hesitant to negotiate with Browning-Ferris because of the city’s history of bitter legal squabbles with the firm.


But public works board members said it would be irresponsible to rule Sunshine Canyon out of the negotiations; to do so, they said, could cost taxpayers millions of dollars because Browning-Ferris has offered the city a rate lower than that of many other dumps. “It’s important not to put all of our eggs in one basket,” said board President J.P. Ellman. “We should negotiate seriously with every bidder.”

Sanitation officials were instructed to return within 45 days with the results of the negotiations with several landfill operators, including Browning-Ferris and Waste Management Inc., the owners of the Bradley Landfill in Sun Valley.

The search for long-term disposal contracts began in earnest after the council voted last month to close Lopez Canyon Landfill, the last city-run dump, on July 1.

But Councilmen Richard Alarcon and Hal Bernson, both of whom have fought to keep Sunshine Canyon closed, oppose including it in any negotiations, saying the city should consider only dumps that are now operating.

“I can’t follow the logic of the Board of Public Works,” said Alarcon, who represents Pacoima and surrounding neighborhoods. He added that he would prefer hauling the city’s trash to the Bradley Landfill in his northeast Valley district so that Bradley can fill up faster and close sooner.

Bernson, who represents the Granada Hills community adjacent to Sunshine Canyon, vows to ask the board to reconsider its action, a Bernson aide said.


“Hal will not sit by and allow the city to negotiate with a waste disposal company that has cost the city millions in legal fees,” said Bernson’s chief legislative deputy, Francine Oschin.

The conflict is the latest in the long-running saga of the 215-acre landfill that straddles the city and county border north of Granada Hills.

After the city closed the landfill on its side of the border in 1991, Browning-Ferris began to expand the dump on the county side. The city launched a lengthy but unsuccessful legal battle to halt the expansion.

After a settlement of the city’s lawsuit was reached, the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals voted in March to prohibit Browning-Ferris from routing trash trucks through an access road within the city’s borders, citing zoning laws and complaints about the operator’s past record.

Browning-Ferris responded by filing its own lawsuit against the city, seeking $400 million in lost revenue.

Last month, the two sides reached another settlement. The council agreed to allow Browning-Ferris to use the access road; in exchange, Browning-Ferris dismissed the lawsuit and agreed to provide at least $550,000 for “environmental programs” and to accept city trash for $18.20 per ton, according to city records.


Browning-Ferris’ $18.20 rate is comparable to the rate offered at Bradley Landfill, but much lower than rates offered by landfills in Riverside County and West Covina.

The issue became more complex when members of the Board of Public Works noted that the council had instructed the board to negotiate only with landfills that can accept trash starting Feb. 4--a requirement that Sunshine Canyon cannot meet because it is not expected to reopen until July.

The council set the Feb. 4 date because Lopez Canyon was originally scheduled to close on that date and the council wanted a landfill to take the city’s trash immediately after it shut down.

When the council decided last month instead to close the Lopez Canyon on July 1, no one changed the date by which a new landfill is to take over the city’s refuse disposal.

Assistant City Atty. Chris Westoff told the Board of Public Works that it did not have to adhere to the Feb. 4 date because the council instructions were merely recommendations and because the Feb. 4 date was moot.

He said sticking to the Feb. 4 date would be a mistake because it would rule out negotiating with Sunshine Canyon and possibly saving the city money on disposal costs.


“The board would be shirking its responsibility if it did not bring to the council all of the prices,” he said.

Arnie Berghoff, a Browning-Ferris spokesman, said the Sunshine Canyon landfill has all its necessary permits and can complete construction of the expanded dump by July 1.

He said the only foreseeable delay to the construction would be if heavy rains occur.