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City's Waste Solution Stinks

The Sepulveda Basin Recreation Area is no place for L.A.'s only permanent sewage dump, as is proposed.

November 24, 1996|PETER IRELAND | Peter Ireland of Van Nuys is chairman of the Coalition to Save the Sepulveda Basin

We came to celebrate a victory, on a Santa Monica Mountains ridgeline high above the political and urban decay of Los Angeles. It was a picture-perfect Veterans Day morning with crystal-clear unobstructed views stretching from downtown to the Westside, the San Fernando Valley and beyond.

We gathered together in the fresh and crisp morning air to celebrate the removal of Mission, Rustic and Sullivan canyons from the Los Angeles County Solid Waste Management Plan.

In attendance were several generations of citizen warriors, homeowner leaders, environmentalists and several of our elected representatives, including Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, Rep.-elect Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks), state Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Los Angeles) and City Councilman Marvin Braude. Most of those in attendance were veterans of L.A.'s infamous "garbage wars."

For those too young to remember, the garbage wars can be described as a four-decade-long period of public policy warfare marked by the unrelenting attempts of some government agencies to fill Mission, Rustic and Sullivan canyons with L.A.'s garbage. Standing in the way of these efforts was an ever-growing army of private citizens and public opinion.

Attempts to transform the Santa Monica Mountains into trash dumping grounds by those who then held the seats of power ultimately led to a new wave of elected leaders who listened to and acted on the public's demand to protect open space as a habitat for wildlife and parkland for recreation. Ultimately, the rising tide of citizen activism and public sentiment led to officially designating a recreation area in the Santa Monica Mountains.

The public debate that occurred during this 40-year battle resulted in a sound public policy--parkland and recreation areas should not be used as dump sites for human refuse. Put another way, it is simply inappropriate and unacceptable to dump human waste in a public recreational area.

Unfortunately, the lessons learned in one recreation area are being ignored in another recreation area. Just a few miles from that now-protected mountain ridge lies the Sepulveda Basin Recreation Area, the Valley's largest park and most heavily used recreation area.

In the face of strong community opposition, the city of Los Angeles is moving quickly to open the world's largest truck toilet--a raw sewage dump for heavy tanker trucks adjacent to Woodley Avenue Park. If approved, the Sepulveda Basin Recreation Area will house the only permanently hauled sewage dump within the city. City documents show that up to 60,000 tanker-truck trips a year, hauling 45 million gallons of raw sewage from all over the city and county, will descend into the Valley's recreation area.

What is absolutely astounding is that the main proponent of dumping human waste in the Sepulveda Basin Recreation Area is the area's retiring council member, Marvin Braude, who prides himself as being one of the leading opponents of dumping in the Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area.

Braude's support for opening a sewage dump in the Sepulveda Basin Recreation Area hinges on four points--public money has already been spent; the Environmental Protection Agency is making the city do it; Braude has mitigated sewage dumping impacts by limiting usage of the basin site, and finally, the existing sewage dump site on the Hayvenhurst frontage road next to the Van Nuys Airport runways can't be monitored.

A closer look at this issue reveals the following: Public money also was spent on dump sites in the Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area, yet the overriding public policy now correctly acknowledges that you don't dump human waste in recreation areas.

The EPA's San Francisco staff has advised that "there is no reason that the EPA would be requiring the city to do what they are doing."

As to mitigating sewage dumping impacts to the basin by limiting access--Braude's proposal allows a very large camel's nose into the tent--more than 18,000 tanker-trucks annually. More ominous, the city is designating only one permanent sewage dump--the Sepulveda Basin Recreation Area.

Perhaps we are really being told that some recreation areas are more "politically correct" to protect than other recreation areas. Or are we detecting a form of "park protection" hypocrisy from some officeholders on this issue?

Exactly where does the remainder of the Valley's elected leadership stand on protecting our most accessible and popular recreation area? To date, only state Sen. Herschel Rosenthal (D-Van Nuys) has expressed sincere interest in protecting the basin.

Users and supporters of the Sepulveda Basin Recreation Area have consistently said that the only acceptable location for sewage dumping is in industrial zoned areas, not parkland or recreation areas. An existing site--allowed by the city for many years, located next to the runways at Van Nuys Airport with ample opportunity for a portable monitoring station--just may be the city's best solution to a problem that otherwise continues to stink.

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