The Los Angeles Environmental Quality Board, used to toiling outside the public eye, made its bid to be noticed Friday by raising questions about one of Mayor Tom Bradley's favored projects: a plan to build three large trash incinerators that would emit low levels of carcinogens in their exhaust.
Board President Robert L. Glushon, after a hearing Friday, said he plans to report to a City Council committee Monday that the board believes the city has erred in moving rapidly ahead without first resolving some of the health and safety questions raised by residents of the South-Central Los Angeles neighborhood where the first incinerator is planned.
The hearing, attended by a battery of city officials, attracted an unusually large audience to the board's meeting room. They were lured by the controversy that arose when Bradley's office imposed, then lifted, an order that the board, which advises the city Planning Department, stay out of the brewing citywide controversy over trash burning.
Bradley's objection was dropped after board member Denise Fairchild resigned, according to Deputy Mayor Tom Houston, who said the mayor had feared that she would use her position on the board to help her run for City Council in the 10th District. However, Fairchild and Glushon said Houston simply wanted the board not to meddle in the "politically sensitive" incinerator issue. Members of city commissions serve at the mayor's pleasure.
At the hearing Friday, Glushon and another board member, Robert Hattoy, regional director of the Sierra Club, directed most of their questions at the city's decision to acquire land for the first incinerator, relocate residents and initial a contract before a study of the health risks is completed.
The city has already spent more than $12 million on the Los Angeles City Energy Recovery (LANCER) project, officials said Friday, mostly on land and to obtain financing. However, final approval of the project has been reserved until the results of the health-risk study are made available in April.
City officials contend that the trash incinerators are needed to replace rapidly filling landfill dumps. The first LANCER plant would burn 1,600 tons of household refuse a day. City Sanitation Director Delwin Biaggi said Friday that the two successive LANCER plants, planned for undetermined sites in the Westside and San Fernando Valley, would need to be larger to accommodate more trash than previously believed.
Opponents, which include many of the city's homeowner groups, have complained that the project is advancing so fast that even if the health-risk study shows a high cancer risk, the political and financial pressures to approve the project will be overwhelming.
They plan to make a frontal assault on the project Monday in the council's Finance and Revenue Committee, which will be studying the Bradley administration's request to sign a contract with the Ogden-Martin Co. to build and operate the first LANCER plant.
Glushon said he was pleased at all the attention directed at the board, which has only one clear mandate in its charter: to produce an annual "state of the city's environment" report. However, the little-known board has not produced the report since 1977. Glushon said a request for funding to produce the report this year was turned down by the mayor.
"No one has ever really said don't do it," Glushon said. "The mayor chose not to fund it."
Glushon said the board intends to keep an eye on the trash-burning controversy, and he was pleased to hear that several more public hearings are planned before various city boards and agencies.