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VALLEY NEWS

Hahn Takes Aim at Sunshine Canyon

Mayoral candidate says landfill should be closed. Opponents say he's just pandering to Valley voters.

March 06, 2001|PATRICK McGREEVY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Sunshine Canyon Landfill should be shut down and its operators prosecuted for environmental violations, Los Angeles City Atty. James Hahn said Monday.

Hahn, a candidate for mayor, called on county officials to move against a dump approved by the Los Angeles City Council and Mayor Richard Riordan in 1999.

At a news conference in the frontyard of a Granada Hills house near the landfill, Hahn announced he has asked Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley to investigate whether the violations merit criminal charges.

"I believe that there are grounds to file criminal charges," Hahn told reporters. "Obviously, you can't know for sure until the matter is fully investigated, but I believe that certainly a prima facie case is here."

Hahn moved to shore up his support in the voter-rich San Fernando Valley by pressing a hot-button issue among north Valley residents: The landfill that sprawls across the border between the city and the county is called essential to disposing of the city's waste, but is hugely unpopular with nearby residents. It has operated for 40 years, most recently on county land; operator Browning-Ferris Industries won city approval to reopen on the city side of the border, probably in midsummer.

Hahn became the first mayoral candidate to move beyond criticism of the dump. He was basking in the afterglow of a poll that showed him the overwhelming front runner among the six leading candidates for mayor in the April 10 elections.

In a separate letter Monday to the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Department, Hahn said a series of inspections by the county since September 1999 found more than two dozen violations, including the excessive release of methane gas.

He requested that county planners hold a public hearing "to consider the revocation or modification" of the conditional use permit approved by the county in 1993.

"In light of the scope and the number of these violations, it seems only appropriate that the zoning enforcement arm of the Regional Planning Department look into the means by which its land use grant may be used to address the health and safety concerns of local residents," Hahn wrote.

The permit can be revoked if it can be shown that the landfill operator has failed to remedy violations at the dump, Hahn said.

A spokesman for BFI called Hahn's complaints misguided and without merit, while an opponent of Hahn's in the mayor's race said the city attorney was grandstanding to attract Valley voters.

BFI spokesman Arnie Berghoff said most of the violations cited in past months were for minor paperwork glitches, and "the violations have not affected in any way, shape or form the health of anyone."

Berghoff said the release of methane gas in excess of air quality standards, perhaps the most serious violation, was corrected promptly four months ago.

"There haven't been any gas violations for four months," he said.

The spokesman said BFI sent Hahn detailed reports on all of the violations, including information on corrective action.

"Maybe Mr. Hahn needs to take time off from his campaign to read the material we sent him," Berghoff said.

Hahn's position on the landfill was challenged by Ace Smith, a spokesman for Steve Soboroff, who is running against Hahn for mayor.

Smith attended the Granada Hills news conference, telling reporters afterward that Hahn failed to testify against the landfill's expansion when it went before the Los Angeles City Council in late 1999, and accepted a $1,000 political contribution from BFI in 1996.

"We believe this is a classic, hypocritical move by a career politician," Smith said.

A spokeswoman for Cooley's office said Hahn's letter would be forwarded to the environmental crimes unit for examination.

"It will be reviewed just like any document would to determine if there will have to be an investigation opened," said Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the district attorney.

John Gutwein, the head of zoning enforcement for Los Angeles County, said he will review any request from Hahn, but indicated the standard practice is to give the permit holder a chance to fix problems.

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