SACRAMENTO — The Senate on Tuesday approved legislation to prohibit new landfills being developed in the already contaminated San Gabriel Valley Water Basin, which provides drinking water to more than 1 million people.
However, the bill would exempt the controversial proposed expansion of the Azusa Land Reclamation Co. landfill because of an amendment agreed upon in June by the Senate Agriculture and Water Resources Committee.
Assemblywoman Sally Tanner (D-Baldwin Park), who introduced the bill, said she was not pleased by the revision, but accepted it rather than see her proposal shelved. "I felt it was a hostile amendment, but I also feel that it's very important that we get the bill passed and signed," she said.
Regional water quality control boards are now prohibited from issuing waste discharge permits for a new landfill in a gravel pit or sand pit. But the boards can grant a variance if they determine that a landfill will not pollute ground water.
The measure would block expansion of existing garbage dumps or new landfills in at least 12 large gravel pits along the San Gabriel River.
It was approved on a 25-5 vote and sent back to the Assembly for final action.
Tanner said the aim of her bill is to prohibit the regional boards from granting variances for expansion of dumps, including the Azusa landfill. But, she added: "I didn't have Azusa as a target."
Azusa Land Reclamation Co., a subsidiary of Browning-Ferris Industries, is seeking to expand the dump so it can receive 6,000 tons of trash a day. It is now the least active landfill in Los Angeles County, receiving 1,500 tons a day.
Last month, the State Water Resources Control Board turned down a staff recommendation to allow the expansion but asked both sides to hammer out a compromise, to be discussed at a hearing Wednesday in Sacramento. Browning-Ferris has retained the services of four lobbying firms to press its case for expanding the dump.
Browning-Ferris has proposed installing an elaborate system of liners and barricades to block the waste from contaminating the water supply. But the Main San Gabriel Basin Watermaster, an organization of water producers opposed to the dump expansion, maintains that allowing the dump to expand in the porous sand and gravel pit would eventually damage the water basin.
Partly as a result of the dispute in Azusa, Tanner sought to block expansion of existing landfills or new dumps in gravel pits such as the Azusa landfill.
The ground water in the basin is among the most contaminated in the country, according to a Senate staff analysis of the Tanner bill. Supporters of the measure maintain that it will help protect the ground water from pollution and contamination by potentially toxic compounds.
Bob Berlien, executive officer of the Main San Gabriel Basin Watermaster, said Wednesday that he is especially concerned that about 12 large gravel pits, covering approximately 1,000 acres, might be used as landfills in the future if the Tanner bill is not enacted into law. He said his agency agreed to delete the Azusa landfill from the legislation because the state water control board will probably decide the fate of the Azusa expansion before the legislation takes effect.
Among the opponents of the bill are the southern division of the California Refuse Removal Council, the Southern California Ready Mix Concrete Assn. and the state water board.
The board maintains that the bill "would set an inappropriate precedent for banning landfills located over selected aquifers," according to the Senate analysis.
Tanner acknowledged that the bill has been heavily lobbied. Through the first six months of this year, Browning-Ferris reported paying $47,976 to three separate Sacramento firms to lobby the Water Resources Control Board and legislators on Tanner's bill and other legislation.
Browning-Ferris reported paying Advocation Inc., headed by Donald K. Brown, $18,750; Michael B. Kahl, $10,580 and Victor F. Stefan, $18,646. Browning-Ferris also retained the services of a firm owned by Michael Franchetti, Gov. George Deukmejian's former finance director, and David P. Swoap, former Secretary of Health and Welfare under Deukmejian, but had not reported paying them any fees as of June 30.
Browning-Ferris also has reported contributing $19,500 to lawmakers during the same period, according to the report filed with the Secretary of State's Office.