Opponents of fast-moving plans to build 10 large trash incinerators in Los Angeles County obtained a significant new ally Wednesday in state Sen. Art Torres, the Eastside Democrat who is chairman of the Senate committee on toxics and public safety.
At a press conference in South-Central Los Angeles, where crews are clearing ground for an incinerator to burn a third of the city's household trash, Torres said he will carry legislation next year to slow progress on all such refuse plants until more is known about their effects on smog and health.
The main supporters of such plants have been government sanitation officials worried that the city and the county will soon run out of landfill space. The first Los Angeles County facility is currently undergoing final testing in the City of Commerce and is expected to begin operation early next year.
Los Angeles city officials have given all-but-final approval for the South-Central plant, a 1,600-ton-a-day facility near Alameda and 41st streets. Plans have sailed through the City Council without major opposition, and preparations are under way to find sites for a second and third incinerator on the Westside and in the San Fernando Valley.
The bill proposed by Torres of Los Angeles and supported by the growing number of homeowner groups that have come out against incinerators would impose new requirements for evaluation of the possible health effects of trash-burning before any new plants can be built.
However, though Torres was especially pointed about the proposed South-Central plant, which is dubbed the Los Angeles City Energy Recovery (Lancer) facility, it appears that many of the safeguards he seeks are already being applied.
The Torres bill would strengthen a state law passed this year that requires completion of a health-risk study before approval of new incinerators, which burn trash to create electricity and save space in landfills.
Torres said such health-risk studies should consider the cumulative impact of having several trash-burning plants in one area, such as the San Gabriel Valley, where a number are planned. In addition, he said, the studies should look closely at emissions of highly toxic dioxins from plant smokestacks and a public hearing should be held to hear comments.
City officials say all those provisions have been voluntarily included in the health-risk study for the South-Central Lancer project. The study, being prepared by Dr. Allen Smith of Berkeley, will be ready in draft form by early March, said Drew Sones, an analyst in the city administrative office.
The only incinerator planned for Torres' district is the small, nearly completed facility in the City of Commerce. However, Torres said Wednesday that residents all over the Los Angeles Basin fear that the idea of burning trash is spreading rapidly without due concern for the smog potential and safer alternatives.
If Torres has mayoral ambitions in Los Angeles, as some people in politics suggest, his joining with the opponents of trash-burning may prove helpful. By the time of the next scheduled mayoral election in 1989, the controversy over incinerators could well be a major controversy in areas like the Westside and the San Fernando Valley, where new projects are planned to begin about then.
Torres on Wednesday also suggested that as an alternative to burning, residents may once again be faced with the chore of separating their trash at home into different garbage cans.
That used to be the law in Los Angeles, and a quite unpopular law it proved to be. In 1961, for example, Sam Yorty was elected mayor, defeating incumbent Norris Poulson, in large part because Yorty promised to end the practice of separating garbage.