WEST COVINA — The City Council greatly reduced the area covered by its moratorium on housing construction around the BKK landfill Tuesday night, while extending the building ban through April 14 of next year.
The unanimous action drew support from developers, who own about 400 acres of vacant land near the dump.
In April, the council enacted a 45-day moratorium that blocked residential construction on eight large vacant parcels, including sites that had been approved for 308 homes, 136 condominiums and 130 senior-citizen housing units. The moratorium applied to property up to 5,200 feet from the landfill.
The council Tuesday night redefined the moratorium area as within 2,000 feet of the dump's hazardous-waste disposal area, thereby excluding six of the eight vacant parcels.
Michael Miller, community services division manager, said the revised moratorium area includes part of a 10-acre site south of the landfill owned by Umark Corp. and 51 lots in the Ponderosa development north of the landfill. Miller added that the precise measurement of 2,000 feet from the disposal area has yet to be made and so there are some uncertainties.
Miller estimated that 700 to 800 homes already built lie within the moratorium area. But the ban would not affect remodeling or other construction on those houses. Much of the remaining area within the moratorium boundaries is owned by BKK Corp., which said it has no plans to build houses there.
In addition to continuing the moratorium on a smaller area, the council directed the city staff to develop means of informing potential home buyers about the dump's problems. This warning would go to potential buyers of both new and resale homes within the original moratorium boundaries.
Jean Arneson, who lives about a mile from the entrance to the dump, said she can smell dump odors at her house and urged the city to maintain the larger housing moratorium area. If she can smell odors, Arneson said, "common sense tells me that it is neither safe nor healthy."
Arneson also accused the council of delaying the initial moratorium until after the April municipal election in which council members Chester Shearer and Robert L. Bacon defeated dump opponent Tom Walsh.
Shearer Is Mayor
Shearer, who is now mayor, said the moratorium "was delayed to take it out of the political arena."
"I didn't want such a serious issue--a moratorium--to be clouded in a political campaign," he said. He explained that there were no pending housing developments that made enactment of the moratorium urgent and that if the council had imposed the moratorium before the election, he would have been accused of trying to exploit the issue.
The council started thinking about a housing moratorium after it received a letter Feb. 6 from the state Department of Health Services advising the council to "delay residential development in close proximity to the landfill." A month later, the federal Environmental Protection Agency issued orders for cleanup work at the landfill, contending that hazardous waste there posed a threat to ground water.
The city in March asked the state Department of Health Services to initiate proceedings to determine whether the state should declare a border zone around the dump, thereby banning residential construction. The state can ban housing construction within 2,000 feet of a hazardous-waste area if it finds a health danger. Earlier this month, the city asked the health department for advice on whether the city should maintain a housing moratorium near the landfill and how large the moratorium area should be.
Replied in a Letter
Alex Cunningham, chief deputy director of the health department's toxic substance control division, replied last week in a letter that the state has no plan to conduct a hearing to determine if a border zone is necessary at least until comprehensive studies of the landfill are completed "over the next several years."
But, Cunningham said, "that does not mean that the department has concluded that there is no existing or potential health hazard."
In fact, complaints of odors, headaches, nausea and fatigue by residents suggest that the area around the dump might eventually be designated as a border zone, he said.
Cunningham said the health department would recommend a moratorium only for that area within 2,000 feet of the hazardous waste disposal area because that is the area that could become border zone property. But, he said, the city should "carefully review and consider" extending the moratorium to a larger area, since many of the odor complaints come from residents who live more than 2,000 feet from the waste site. "From a health perspective, we believe that it would be prudent to delay residential development in these areas as well," he said.