The market for homes next to the BKK landfill in West Covina is so poor, said real estate broker Noel A. Wychico, that even the speculators, who once combed the neighborhood for bargains, are staying away.
"There are a lot of listings, but there are no buyers," Wychico said.
Wychico, who runs a realty office in La Puente and is a director of both the San Gabriel Valley and the state realty boards, said that buyers were driven away two years ago by news that potentially explosive gas had leaked out of the landfill, forcing the evacuation of 21 families.
And any hope for renewed buyer interest faded this year, he said, when state health officials advised the West Covina City Council to impose a moratorium on residential construction within 2,000 feet of the dump's toxic waste area until more is known about the landfill's impact on public health.
The only home sale he has been able to arrange in the area since the evacuations, Wychico said, was to a speculator for $20,000 below what should have been the market value.
Even that deal fell through, he said, when the speculator began to fear that the presence of the dump would depress property values for years to come.
However, a spokesman for the county assessor's office said its analysis of market values indicates that prices for homes near BKK that plunged after the 1984 evacuations have climbed back up again.
Paul Hannah, assistant county assessor, said that assessments on 129 homes near the dump were reduced in 1984 after a survey showed that their market values, which had been in the $100,000 to $115,000 range, had dropped by as much as $70,000.
Assessments Back Up
The steepest drops were for houses that had been evacuated and were uninhabitable for a time, he said. But this year, Hannah said, a study of home sales in the area indicated that prices had returned to their 1984 levels, and assessments were raised accordingly.
The evacuated houses were in the Hearthstone tract, where 430 homes sold new a decade ago for prices ranging from $55,000 to $85,000.
Rosita Arias, who has lived in her Hearthstone home for about 10 years, said that prices in the tract have lagged far behind those for comparable homes elsewhere.
A neighbor who paid $104,000 for his house five years ago recently sold it for $110,000, she said. A two-story house in her neighborhood that would sell at most for $115,000, she said, would be worth $150,000 if it were just a few blocks farther from the dump.
Many Hearthstone residents are suing the builder of their homes, companies that dumped waste at the landfill and BKK Corp., alleging that the dump has reduced the value of their homes.
But BKK attorney Bennett A. Bigman, in papers filed in response to the suits, said that the homeowners bought their homes at reduced prices because they were next to a hazardous-waste landfill, and "therefore, plaintiffs have suffered no injury by reason of the alleged diminution of the value of their homes."
Despite the presence of the dump, most of the neighboring area that is not owned by BKK has been developed.
Ron Sloan, vice president of Umark Inc., said his company began developing 2,257 acres of vacant land near the landfill in 1969, selling property to builders for housing and commercial centers, and has nearly exhausted its inventory of land.
All that is left now, he said are 40 to 50 lots for custom homes, 14 other lots and about 10 acres.
Dump Once Was 'Bonus'
Sloan said that "originally everybody looked at BKK as a real bonus," thinking that once trash had filled the canyons, parks and golf courses would be built on top and the area would be nicer than ever.
It has not worked out that way, Sloan said, but he does not believe that the dump has hurt property values.
However, Umark has complied with a state-recommended ban on home construction within 2,000 feet of the dump, agreeing to remove a residential street and curbs that had been installed as part of a small tract of 14 homes. The property, in Walnut southeast of the dump, will be redesigned for office and professional use.
Richard Haggerty, president of the Covina Valley Board of Realtors, said it is clear now that houses never should have been built near the dump.
Criticism of City
"The city should have been more astute," he said. "Everyone knows (the dump) smells."
Haggerty said that real estate salesmen have an obligation to disclose the proximity of the dump to property buyers, although it is not clear how far from the dump the disclosure requirement should apply.
Obviously, Haggerty said, mentioning the dump "doesn't help prices," but failing to inform buyers about the dump could leave the salesman open to a lawsuit by a disgruntled buyer.
Haggerty said that in real estate transactions in West Covina and Walnut, the "subject of the dump comes up even where the houses are distant from it."
In one case, he said, the sale of a house six miles from the dump fell through when the buyer said he had just found out about BKK.
Haggerty said he doubts that the buyer was really worried about the landfill, but the buyer did back out of the deal and reclaim his deposit on grounds that the real estate agent never told him about the dump.