A proposal to dump some of Los Angeles' trash in the San Gabriel Valley has sparked a far-ranging controversy among city, county and federal politicians over garbage disposal.
Criticism of the plan, which was scheduled to go before the Los Angeles City Council on Friday, has prompted city officials to send it back for review by the council's three-member Public Works Committee. Already approved by the committee three weeks ago, the plan recommends that temporarily a small portion of the city's household garbage be sent basis to the BKK landfill in West Covina.
Los Angeles' proposed contract with BKK has become ammunition in an already heated battle being waged by San Gabriel Valley politicians who claim that the area has become the county's waste haven.
"I just recoil at knowing that West Covina will become the continued dumping ground of other cities and communities," said U.S. Rep. Esteban Torres (D-La Puente). "I cannot in good conscience let that happen. I just don't believe I can tolerate any additional dumping in the valley."
West Covina and the BKK landfill became the focus of national attention last year when 21 families were evacuated because of migrating toxic and explosive gases. The last of the families returned to their homes in January and since then, things have been relatively quiet around the landfill.
BKK was the only hazardous-waste dump in Southern California until late last yearm when it voluntarily stopped receiving toxic materials. It still accepts non-hazardous waste.
Landfill at Capacity
The proposal to send some of Los Angeles' garbage to BKK has also come under fire from the West Covina City Council and Los Angeles County Supervisor Pete Schabarum, both of whom charge that the City of Los Angeles, faced with a landfill shortage, is attempting to dump its garbage problem on nearby cities.
Both Schabarum and Torres have asked the Los Angeles City Council to drop the proposed contract.
Los Angeles is considering dumping at BKK on a temporary basis because one of its two municipal landfills, Toyon 1 in Griffith Park, has reached capacity and is scheduled to close by the end of this month. Under the contract, which could be renewed annually for up to five years, only a small portion of the trash normally destined for Toyon 1 would be sent to BKK, Los Angeles officials said. The bulk would be taken to Sunshine Canyon landfill in Sylmar under a separate contract that had been scheduled for review by the council on Friday.
The Public Works Committee voted against that contract, however, and has recommended that the council not approve it, at the urging of Councilman Hal Bernson, whose district includes the Sunshine Canyon landfill.
"(The committee) is supportive of Bernson's request that he didn't want any more trash going into that area," said Sterling Buesch, assistant director of the city's Bureau of Sanitation.
Both contracts, which originated in the Public Works Department, are also designed to provide interim dump sites while the council struggles with a controversial plan to build a trash-to-energy plant in the city's central district.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles officials claim that they are caught between a rock and a hard place in trying to find temporary disposal sites.
"Whatever alternative is approved by the council is going to anger somebody," Buesch said. "We've got a responsibility to pick up the trash and we've got a responsibility to dispose of it. This material is not just going to magically disappear."
'Out of Sight'
West Covina Mayor Forest Tennant, Torres and Schabarum, however, claim that Los Angeles is using an "out-of-sight, out-of-mind" approach in dealing with its landfill shortage.
"The point is that the city of L.A. wants to close all of its landfills," Tennant said. " . . . So why should (their trash) come to another area that has the same concerns?"
Tennant has emerged as an outspoken opponent of several proposed waste-to-energy plants in the San Gabriel Valley, contending that the area is too polluted and that other locations outside the valley are better suited for such plants.
Although West Covina city officials have vowed to fight the proposed dumping, they admit that they may have little power to do so because BKK is a privately owned landfill.
Forcing the Issue
"I'm not optimistic," Tennant said. "I have a hard time believing that we can stop a private landfill from taking garbage onto their property. I can tell you that the City Council intends to force this issue, regardless of what anyone else says."
Tennant said that the city attorney is reviewing the issue to determine if West Covina has any legal recourse.
According to Schabarum's chief deputy, Mike Lewis, the supervisor opposes Los Angeles' plan to dump garbage at BKK for similar reasons. "It's about time that the city stood up and recognized its responsibility for its own refuse," Lewis said.
"Their solution is to just take their trash to another town. And the supervisor won't allow that to happen."