WEST COVINA — The City Council has imposed a 45-day moratorium on residential construction on eight parcels of land within a mile of the BKK landfill while the state assesses possible health hazards.
The moratorium was proposed after the California Department of Health Services recommended in February that "it is advisable to delay residential development in close proximity to the landfill."
The council voted 4 to 1 on Monday to approve an urgency ordinance, which prohibits the review or approval of residential developments on the approximately 360 acres, and stops the issuance of residential building permits for the land.
City officials said that the moratorium can be extended if environmental agencies cannot determine within 45 days whether it will be safe for people to live on the land.
"We hated to do this," said Councilwoman Nancy Manners. "A builder has the right to build on his property, but we always have the responsibility to protect our people."
Mostly Vacant Land
Most of the land affected by the moratorium is vacant, but the owners have plans for residential development of the property. One project adjacent to the landfill is already under construction. City officials said 38 condominiums have been built in the project that eventually will have 177 units. The owners of the project, Central Savings & Loan Assn., could not be reached for comment, but Mike Miller, the city's community services division manager, said that pending final inspection, the 38 units can be sold but potential buyers must be notified of the potential risks. Construction of the unbuilt units in the project has been halted by the moratorium, Miller said.
Several developers who said they are planning housing projects complained about the council action.
"It sure as heck bothers me," said Allen Siegal, owner of one of the eight parcels. Siegal said he has plans to build 175 apartment units on his 10 acres. "I've had that land for eight years, and all of a sudden this garbage happens, and we can't do anything."
Ronald Ballard, an attorney for Brutoco Development Co., which has proposed a 180-unit senior citizens complex, said he thought the city had overreacted to the recommendation by the state health officials.
"The moratorium was too broad," Ballard said. "They could have achieved the same purpose by merely refusing to issue the building permits and certificates of occupancy."
Ballard said his company does not plan to take immediate action against the city, but Siegal said he is considering such a move.
"If it takes much longer (to start construction), we have to do something," Siegal said. "We have a lot of money tied up in that property."
Previously, the state health agency had found "no evidence of any health hazards" to those living near the landfill, said community services manager Miller. "That's the first time they've ever said anything like that."
Thousands Live Near BKK
Because no official health warning had been issued previously by the agency, homes, apartments and condominiums for 30,000 to 40,000 people have been built over the years in a one-mile radius around the landfill, Miller said.
More than 250 of the residents have sued W & A Builders, who built their homes, their real estate brokers and BKK for negligence and misrepresentation of the area. Court action is pending.
The 580-acre dump has been operating near the corner of Azusa Avenue and Amar Road since 1963. At that time, the closest neighbor was a dairy farm on the opposite side of Amar Road. In the mid-1970s, housing tracts began to go up around the dump and many of the people who bought homes at that time now contend that the developer's real estate brokers, Professional Brokers Inc., said the toxic dump was a "sanitary landfill" that would soon become the site of a golf course and public park.
Seven of the eight sites affected by the moratorium are privately owned. The city owns the other section. Three of the sections are adjacent to the landfill; the other five are within 5,200 feet of BKK. Seven of the sections are between Azusa Avenue on the west and Citrus Avenue to the east. The other section is south of the landfill near Amar Road.
Mayor Was Lone Dissenter
The only vote against the moratorium came from Mayor Forest Tennant, who said the decision was premature.
"We don't even know if there are any hazards there or not at this time," Tennant said. "The only one who can determine that is the state.
"I think it's very presumptuous of a city to say to someone who owns land a mile away from the landfill that you can no longer build on that land. That's not a moratorium, that's really a condemnation of the land."
Tennant said he believes that residential building should be prohibited if the land is determined to be unsafe, but said that so far, none of the environmental agencies have provided any such evidence.
"There may be a need for a moratorium, but that has to be determined by the state," Tennant said. "The city can't determine if it is unsafe."