In a preliminary accord reached last week, BKK Corp. agreed to sell Los Angeles County and city its land holdings at Elsmere Canyon north of Sylmar, moving the site a step closer to development as a public landfill, County Supervisor Deane Dana said.
The preliminary agreement, which Dana said is still "at the handshake stage," climaxed nearly a week of intensive maneuvering and political intrigue over control of the proposed Elsmere dump, which city and county officials say is critical to solving trash-disposal problems.
Dana said the deal, which was made Wednesday night, will be worth about $125 million to BKK, which had amassed at least 500 acres of land at Elsmere Canyon along with options and an agreement in principle with the U.S. Forest Service to acquire nearly 1,000 acres of federal lands needed for the dump.
The deal also signified BKK's 11th-hour withdrawal from a unique mutual-aid pact with the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, which was scheduled to acquire BKK's lands last Thursday--thus making them condemnation-proof and giving the conservancy a bargaining chip in its effort to preserve three other canyons as parkland.
Publicly revealed about two weeks ago by The Times, the secret agreement between the parks agency and waste disposal firm was meant to strengthen their bargaining power in pursuit of vastly different goals.
BKK, which wanted to develop and run the Elsmere dump itself, faced the threat that the county would use its power of condemnation to take the land if BKK did not agree to sell its interests at a price the county and city were willing to pay.
And the conservancy--a state agency that buys parkland in and near the Santa Monica Mountains--wanted a promise that three other canyons would be saved if it acquiesced in the destruction of Elsmere Canyon. The conservancy wanted Mission, Rustic and Sullivan canyons in the Santa Monicas, owned by the county and independent County Sanitation Districts, to become parkland.
After disclosure of the secret deal, which took effect Thursday, city and county officials began intensive negotiations with BKK. The roughly $125 million BKK will receive is about midway between the county's initial offer of more than $50 million and BKK's demand of $200 million to $225 million.
The conservancy's secret plan to forcibly inject itself as a figure in the negotiations surprised and angered some city and county officials. Yet it appeared that the conservancy may get something from the preliminary agreement, according to Dana and the conservancy's executive director, Joseph T. Edmiston.
They said that the deal appears to call for Sullivan and Rustic canyons, deep pristine clefts covering 1,900 acres, to become parkland either through donation or sale to the conservancy or another agency.
But the deal reportedly is silent on the fate of Mission Canyon, where politically powerful developer Ray Watt wants to develop 500 expensive homes. The 400-acre canyon is already ringed by homes and was used by the Sanitation Districts as a dump for a while in the '60s.
Edmiston said parkland status for Sullivan and Rustic canyons would be "a major step forward." But he predicted that legislation in Congress to transfer Forest Service lands in Elsmere to the city and county will face tough scrutiny from environmental interests, which will question whether enough new parkland is created to justify a trash dump on Forest Service holdings.
Dana said the conservancy had caused considerable disruption, but was no longer a factor because of the 11th-hour deal with BKK. He claimed the conservancy's gambit was completely inappropriate because the agency "was going to get . . . Rustic and Sullivan canyon anyway."
In their effort to break up the pact between the conservancy and BKK, top city officials, including Mayor Tom Bradley, last week had considered orchestrating an emergency vote of the conservancy board to void the deal with BKK, Deputy Mayor Mike Gage said Wednesday.
State Senate President Pro Tem David Roberti (D-Los Angeles) confirmed reports that Bradley called him Tuesday afternoon to complain about the conservancy-BKK deal. He quoted Bradley as saying the BKK-conservancy deal would make development of the dump more costly for the city. Bradley also reportedly tried to reach Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco).
Roberti and Brown each appoint one member of the conservancy's decision-making board.
Roberti aide Rick Dunne said that, after Bradley's call, he discussed the issue with Gage. Dunne said that when Gage mentioned a possible vote on the BKK pact, he told Gage that Roberti "tries to appoint quality people but we do not tell our appointees . . . how to vote."
Times Staff Writers Alan Miller and Amy Pyle contributed to this story.