GRANADA HILLS — In the latest chapter of a decade-long battle, two members of a North Valley environmental group were arrested Friday afternoon for climbing a fence at the Sunshine Canyon Landfill north of Granada Hills in an unsuccessful attempt to stop the dump owners from cutting down 3,000 oak trees to expand it.
Mary Edwards, 63, and Edward You, 39, both of Granada Hills, were charged with trespassing by Los Angeles police.
About a dozen other residents from nearby communities also protested as crews working for Browning-Ferris Industries Inc., the dump owner, removed the California live oak trees.
Residents of the neighborhood, and their elected city representatives, have for years been fighting a proposed expansion of the dump, which county authorities say is needed to accommodate the county's river of trash.
Edwards was upset, she said, when Browning-Ferris began cutting the trees about 5 p.m. Thursday, less than an hour after a Los Angeles County oversight committee gave the company final permission to go ahead with the removals. The crews worked until about 9 p.m. Thursday and returned Friday morning.
"BFI went right in and started destroying" the trees, she said. "They couldn't wait to get those bulldozers rolling."
Rosemary Woodlock, a lawyer for the North Valley Coalition of Concerned Citizens, an environmental group, said she was stunned at how quickly Browning-Ferris began tearing out trees.
"We assumed it would be at least Monday before they could start work," she said.
Browning-Ferris spokesman Arnie Berghoff said, "We started right away because we had the authority to do so. This has been a long process that hasn't been terribly pleasant" for either nearby residents or Browning-Ferris, he said.
"But now that it's over, we'd like to express our intent to be a good neighbor and a good corporate citizen to the surrounding community," Berghoff said.
Regarding the protesters' arrests, Berghoff added: "They were all warned by the security guards. I made the decision to call police for one reason only. There are rattlesnakes up there. The only reason we did it was for their own safety."
The original Sunshine Canyon Landfill closed in November, 1992, because it was full. Since then, environmentalists and nearby residents have battled Browning-Ferris in the courts and before county officials to stop the expansion, which would prepare the dump to accommodate 17 million more tons of trash over the next 10 years.
County authorities, however, favor expansion of the dump.
The Sunshine Canyon Landfill straddles the Los Angeles city line, with part of it in the city and part outside, in unincorporated county territory.
The county government resisted a lawsuit by the city and environmentalists who tried to secure a court order preventing the expansion on the county side of the border. Earlier this month, a state appeals court ruled that the expansion could proceed.
Now, opponents of the dump say that even though they still have some options left, it may be too late to save the trees. Browning-Ferris hopes the landfill will start accepting trash in about six months.
"Here we talk about losing rain forests in South America and look what we're doing in our own back yard," said Lynne Plambeck of Santa Clarita. "The wind blows both ways, so I'm sure we'll get the air pollution too."
Woodlock said she went to Los Angeles Superior Court on Friday morning to apply for a temporary restraining order to keep Browning-Ferris from destroying any more trees until several legal issues are cleared up. That application was denied because Browning-Ferris wasn't given sufficient notice of the application, Woodlock said.
She plans to reapply for a restraining order Monday "if there are any oak trees left."
Other opponents of the dump, including Los Angeles city officials, said they were also considering further legal action.
"I'm disappointed to say the least that BFI has decided to proceed with clearing the land without having all the necessary permits it needs to do so, in our opinion," said Deputy City Atty. Keith Pritsker.
He added that the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety may also issue a cease and desist order if department employees see BFI improperly using a dump access road located within the city limits.
"The land the road is on is zoned for agricultural use, not trucks and bulldozers," Pritsker said.
Berghoff said Browning-Ferris' next move would be to expand the dump on the city side and join the two landfills into one.
"But that's a political decision the City Council will have to deal with, probably later this year," said Berghoff. Browning-Ferris has already submitted an application for the proposed project to the city's Planning Department.