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Telltale Trash Tries Patience of Dump Critics in Granada Hills : Foes of Landfill Expansion Cite Odors, Traffic, Renegade Refuse

November 24, 1986|PATRICIA KLEIN | Times Staff Writer

Citizens of Beverly Hills, beware. Residents of Granada Hills are reading your trash.

Letters containing intimate details of your personal lives, tax statements outlining your financial affairs, medical reports listing your physical and mental infirmities--all this and more.

The private lives of people from Santa Monica to Brea are undergoing the same scrutiny.

Why, one might ask?

The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.

To be more specific, the wind is blowing the trash from the Sunshine Canyon Landfill above Granada Hills into the yards of residents of the affluent northwestern San Fernando Valley community below.

'Personal Papers' Blown

"People in Beverly Hills probably don't know that their trash is being enjoyed by Granada Hills," said Mary Edwards, who lives in an upper-middle-class neighborhood about a quarter of a mile beneath the 230-acre dump.

"You get people's personal papers, and it's frequently something I'm sure they would not want you to see. Sometimes you get fascinated."

Edwards and her neighbors can laugh about it, but their jokes barely mask their intense irritation with the dump, which has grown in recent years to one of the five largest landfills in the nation.

Now, Houston-based Browning Ferris Industries, the dump's owner, has applied to the city and county for permission to more than double the size of the dump, which already takes in 7,000 tons of trash a week, said Greg Smith, chief deputy for Councilman Hal Bernson, in whose district the dump is located. The company wants to extend its operations beyond 1991--the date the existing license expires--well into the 21st Century, officials said.

A small band of Granada Hills and Northridge residents calling themselves the North Valley Coalition are determined not to let this happen.

"Say, 'No. No more. Dumps don't belong near people. . . . before they start calling us Stinky Hills,' " Granada Hills resident Carol Albright told about 30 of her neighbors at a recent meeting called to rally against the dump, which is located on city and county property.

Bernson, who lives just south of the dump, has vowed to fight its expansion, which would have to be approved by the City Council, the county Board of Supervisors and the state, Smith said.

The residents say the landfill smells up their neighborhood and creates pollution, noise and traffic problems. They also worry that the dump constitutes a health threat, lowers property values and threatens ecologically sensitive areas of the Santa Susana mountains.

They say flurries of flying trash and dust descend on their neighborhood from the dump, particularly between September and January, when winds from the upper deserts whistle through the Newhall Pass at speeds of up to 60 m.p.h.

As proof of the problem, Edwards and her neighbors recently displayed a Neiman-Marcus bag filled with trash gathered by one resident during a 20-minute walk through O'Melveney Park, one of two nearby parks they say are plagued with the debris.

Stock Certificate

The bag's contents included an oncology clinic's receipt for a Venice woman's chest X-rays, a certificate for 1,000 shares of Purex Corp. stock and a March 16, 1985, "near midair collision preliminary report" for an incident involving an Air Cal plane and a private pilot from Woodland Hills.

Also, a "market data" report on the sale of the Brea Village Shopping Center in Brea, a record of telephone calls made from various extensions at Dow Chemical Co. and a KTLA-TV programming schedule for the evening of Oct. 30.

Don Mullally, caretaker of O'Melveney Park, the city's second largest park after Griffith Park, said he was embarrassed when the Sierra Club and Audubon Society recently came to the park for a hike and were "caught in a cloud of trash like a snowstorm."

Mullally said he picks up some of the trash himself, as do hikers who use the park. Sometimes, Mullally said, he calls Browning Ferris officials, who have been prompt to send workers. But parts of the park consist of sheer canyon walls and cliffs so steep that no one can reach them safely and easily. There, plastic and paper remain, marring the landscape, Mullally said.

Fill-Dirt Dust

At the close of business each day, the dump is covered with fill dirt to hold the trash in, but even that creates problems, the residents said. "The dust settles in our homes all over everything," resident Dotti Main said.

Then there are the odors, partly the result of methane gas that occurs at any dump site, Smith said.

"At first, we thought it was a gas leak," Main recalled. "Then we'd call the gas company. They'd come out and say: 'Oh, we know what that is. We smelled it before we got off the freeway. That's your dump."

Although they have no proof, residents like Fern Eisenberg blame the dump for several cases of cancer, respiratory problems and flu-like symptoms suffered by the dump's neighbors.

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