The Sunshine Canyon Landfill can continue operating, despite several violations that have been "materially detrimental" to a Granada Hills neighborhood next to it, states a ruling released Thursday by a Los Angeles zoning official.
But the landfill's operator, Browning-Ferris Industries, must apply for a new zoning variance, take steps to stop dust and litter from blowing into the neighborhood and test nearby soil and air to evaluate whether the dump is harmful to residents' health, Zoning Administrator John J. Parker Jr. ruled.
Both Browning-Ferris and Los Angeles City Councilman Hal Bernson, the major foe of the dump, said they will appeal the ruling to the Board of Zoning Appeals. The final decision probably will be made by the City Council, Bernson said.
Council Decision Possible
Although council members usually defer to each other on matters concerning an individual council district, the landfill issue could be viewed as a citywide question because of a shortage of places to put the city's trash.
Sunshine Canyon is one of only two landfills that accept trash from the city of Los Angeles, said Michael M. Miller, assistant director of the city Bureau of Sanitation. City and county officials predict that existing landfills will be full by 1991, he said, and closing the Sunshine Canyon facility would hasten that date.
Bernson prompted the investigation into Sunshine Canyon by Parker when he asked zoning officials in March to close the landfill for violating terms of its 1966 zoning variance.
Parker instead decided that Browning-Ferris "must be granted the opportunity to cure the violations and problems." The ruling marked the first time the city has found the landfill to be in violation, and "only in the event of future violations and failures to comply would actual revocation be considered . . . ," Parker said in his report.
Browning-Ferris spokesman Lynn Wessell said the company will appeal Parker's finding that the landfill is violating height restrictions imposed by the 1966 variance.
Bernson said that in his appeal, he will continue to urge that the dump be closed.
"I'm confident now that this gives us the ability to move forward for the closing out of the landfill," Bernson said. The violations found by Parker can be used against Browning-Ferris during any attempt to obtain a zoning variance, Bernson said.
Although Parker used the term "materially detrimental" to describe the dump's impact on the neighborhood and singled out the dust problem, he was not more specific in discussing the seriousness of the violations.
Wessell, however, noted that the ruling found no proof of adverse health effects and no problem with odors from the dump. He said the company already is taking the prescribed dust- and litter-control measures, which include the use of three water trucks to moisten the dust and the spraying of sealant onto parts of the landfill that are no longer in use.
The ruling also dismissed as unproven an allegation that the landfill has reduced neighbors' property values.
"We basically feel it's rather a vindication," Wessell said of the ruling.
The alleged violations included the height of the landfill, which was restricted to about 1,700 feet on its eastern end and about 2,000 feet on its western end. City inspectors found the height to be 1,755 feet on the east and possibly as high as 2,050 feet on the west, Parker said. Inspectors also found grading and filling too close to ridgelines and outside the boundaries established by the 1966 zone variance.
Although the violations probably were inadvertent at first, the ruling said, they were "exacerbated by a lack of candor" and a lack of "aggressive attempts to cure on the part of the operator."
The ruling added that Browning-Ferris' position was: "No violations have occurred; but if violations have occurred, there were good reasons to do so, and/or the violations were minor, and/or the violated conditions were obsolete or irrelevant.
"Such may have been true," the ruling said, "but that did not excuse BFI from seeking cures as expeditiously and candidly as possible."
Pointing to that section of the ruling, Bernson said: "It's a very condemning finding. It says they had the opportunity to cure the violations and didn't do it."
If, as Bernson predicts, the City Council eventually faces a decision on whether to close the landfill, "It certainly will be very controversial on the council floor," the city's Miller said.
Bernson has proposed using Elsmere Canyon, north of Sunshine Canyon, as an alternative dump.
David R. Miller, chairman of a group of four chambers of commerce opposed to the landfill, said: "We knew he was going to find violations." Because of the city's landfill shortage, Miller said, "I just don't feel that any administrator is going to do any more than slap them on the hand."
Parker said his decision was not related to the shortage of landfill space.
Browning-Ferris is seeking county approval to expand the 238-acre Sunshine Canyon Landfill, which is within the city of Los Angeles, onto 542 adjoining acres the company owns in unincorporated county territory. The proposed expansion is being vigorously opposed by Bernson, business groups and the North Valley Coalition, a Granada Hills-based homeowners group.
Dottie Main, the coalition's vice president, said Thursday the group had not yet reviewed the ruling.
In an another development Thursday, the South Coast Air Quality Management District extended a temporary operating variance it granted to Browning-Ferris, allowing it to continue operating while it installs a system to collect methane gas emissions at the landfill.