From the quiet ridge where Mulholland Drive narrows into a bumpy dirt lane,two verdant canyons lead into the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains.
Sullivan and Rustic canyons command an exclusive corner of Southern California: to the north, the luxury homes of Bel Air Knolls, Bel Air Skycrest and the Encino hills are arranged neatly along peaceful cul de sacs and wide streets. To the south, a tangle of deep canyons winds toward Brentwood and the Pacific Palisades.
The Los Angeles City Council believes that Sullivan and Rustic canyons--and nearby Mission Canyon--are enclaves best suited for open parkland and posh communities.
But to a majority of the county Board of Supervisors, the canyons are potential depositories for the thousands of tons of garbage produced in Los Angeles every day.
Now, a heated dispute over how best to use the county-owned canyons--a disagreement that has erupted in two so-called "garbage wars" between the city and county since 1977--has reared its head again.
"If these are not proper sites, then where is?" said Supervisor Pete Schabarum. "This city produces 35,000 tons of trash a day, and it's got to go someplace . . . but the city is saying, 'Not in my backyard.' "
Robert Conheim, attorney for the California Waste Management Board, said the supervisors are pressing for sites within the Los Angeles city limits in part because "if they accept the burden for the city, there's a fear they'll get nicked come election time. That's the politics of it."
But Councilman Marvin Braude, in whose 11th District the canyons lie, says the sites are "wholly inappropriate" for municipal landfills.
"This is going to be a fantastic scenic parkway for all of Southern California to enjoy," Braude said last week as he looked out over the profusion of wildflowers and woods in Rustic Canyon.
"To talk about putting a garbage dump here is crazy, just crazy."
But, to make its point crystal clear, the board, led by Schabarum, refused last year to adopt the county's state-mandated Solid Waste Management Plan, hammered out over five years by representatives of the county's 83 cities, the supervisors and other local agencies.
Unless the City Council agrees to include the three canyons as potential landfill sites, Schabarum said last week, the supervisors will refuse to support the waste management plan, which requires the county's approval. And, until the plan is approved, no new waste-handling projects can go forward anywhere in Los Angeles County.
"I think Pete was just getting even with Los Angeles, demonstrating his clout and exercising his pique," said Councilwoman Joy Picus. "Urging the board to vote against the waste management plan was certainly not a responsible action."
So far, the impasse between the city and county has threatened only one significant project, a trash-to-energy plant in Long Beach. However, an emergency bill by Sen. Ralph Dills (D-Gardena) that allows the Long Beach project to move ahead was signed by the governor Thursday.
Angered by the county's failure to approve the waste management plan--now three years overdue--the California Waste Management Board has jumped into the fray.
Last week, the board asked the state attorney general's office to warn the supervisors that they could be sued unless they approve the long-overdue plan by June 10.
"We were being understanding about the political problems in Los Angeles and we granted extensions for three years," said George Eowan, the waste board's executive officer. "Now we want action. They may be sued; that's up to the attorney general."
The feud dates back to 1977, when the supervisors asked the City Council for a permit to reopen the Mission Canyon landfill, which is owned by the county but is within the city limits. The County Sanitation Districts closed the landfill in 1965 after a developer offered to allow the county to fill a series of nearby canyons, upon which the developer later built Mountaingate Golf Course.
After the 1965 closure of Mission Canyon, the city allowed private schools, luxury homes and religious institutions to be built on the canyon's rim, and the County Sanitation Districts allowed their dumping permit in Mission Canyon to lapse. When the county approached the City Council to reopen Mission Canyon, first in 1977 and again in 1981, the council rejected the application.
"The county got lured into a developer's plan to fill up some other canyons, and all of a sudden the county had this unexpected new capacity for dumping garbage--a free lunch, so to speak," said Cindy Misakowski, an aide to Braude.
"But when they came back to Mission Canyon, they found that time had passed them by," she said. "They are still unwilling to understand that."
Even if named on the landfill list, the three canyons would not automatically become landfill sites. Public hearings and extensive environmental reports would be required, and the plan could be fought by the City Council.