Meeting behind closed doors, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday tentatively approved a complex agreement calling for Los Angeles city and county to develop and run a major regional trash dump in Elsmere Canyon near the city of Santa Clarita.
Deputy Los Angeles Mayor Mike Gage, noting that the county decision came in an executive session in which formal voting is prohibited, predicted that the City Council will give speedy approval if it accepts the proposal as properly approved by the county.
Two county supervisors said they endorsed a 14-page "memorandum of cooperation" between the county and city.
They said it calls on the city and county to create a joint-powers authority to develop and operate the 190-million-ton capacity landfill by selling $195 million in revenue bonds, to be repaid by tipping fees levied for each ton of refuse dumped. Most of the proposed 1,500-acre landfill east of the Antelope Valley Freeway still must be acquired from the U.S. Forest Service, which owns the canyon as part of the Angeles National Forest.
Another provision of the proposed agreement calls on the city of Los Angeles to appease the city of Santa Clarita by deeding it part of the Saugus Rehabilitation Center, which Santa Clarita wants for a new park and city hall.
In return for not opposing the new landfill, which is in an unincorporated area a mile and a half from its boundary, Santa Clarita would receive a fee for each ton of refuse in an amount to be determined by city and county negotiators. This was apparently a concession to Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who reportedly pushed for a larger tipping fee than the nickel per ton included in earlier drafts of the agreement.
Santa Clarita Mayor Jan Heidt was dissatisfied with the proposal. Referring to the nickel-a-ton fee and the possibility of getting less than all of the Saugus center, she called the concessions "just crumbs. . . ."
"This city is affected more" than any other, but "we are not part of the process," she said. "We are just being dictated to."
Supervisor Deane Dana, who has played a lead role in months-long negotiations between the city, county and other public agencies and private parties, hailed the tentative pact as the solution to "the trash problems in Los Angeles County for 40 years or more." Supervisor Ed Edelman said the preliminary agreement "gets the city and the county cooperating for the first time" to end "the garbage war"--a reference to their longstanding feud over responsibility for providing landfill space.
In giving the latest proposal their blessing, the supervisors appeared to take a big step toward developing the Elsmere dump.
Richard B. Dixon, the county's chief administrative officer, said the proposal endorsed by the supervisors was within "the scope of what the negotiators from the city said was a doable package. . . . You never count votes until the gavel strikes, but I think we have a deal."
Gage said Tuesday night he believed the City Council "would adopt it immediately" if convinced the proposal "is really coming from the Board of Supervisors."
"It's my belief . . . that the county voted 3 to 1 in executive session to approve the document that we essentially negotiated on for six months," Gage said. "However, we don't know that for a fact . . . because it was done in executive session."
County officials defended their action, saying it was not a formal vote but an instruction to their negotiators to proceed with the proposal. They said the final deal would have to be discussed and voted on in public session.
"It wasn't a vote. . . . It was just a consensus," Dana said.
"It was done in closed session because the board didn't enter into an agreement with anybody," Dixon said. "The board gave its negotiators instructions."
Supervisor Kenneth Hahn did not attend the session, and Dana said Supervisor Pete Schabarum, who could not be reached Tuesday night, was the only opponent. Schabarum, whose San Gabriel Valley district has four of the county's ten active landfills, has opposed any deal that precludes dumping trash in three canyons within the city in the Santa Monica Mountains--as this deal does.
Under the proposal, the three canyons, which are owned by the county and the independent Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts, would be permanently removed from the list of candidate landfill sites. Pristine Rustic and Sullivan canyons south of Mulholland Boulevard would be designated as parkland, and trash dumping would be banned in Mission Canyon west of the San Diego Freeway.
The county would be free, however, to sell Mission Canyon to developer Ray Watt, who wants to build hundreds of expensive houses there.
In addition to regular tipping fees, the proposal calls for the city to pay a penalty of at least $1 per ton for every ton less than 132,000 tons per month it dumps at Elsmere.