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Firm Ready to Turn Landfill Into Golf Course

Recreation: Developer's plan calls for 110-acre links and equestrian center on portion of Palos Verdes dump.

July 19, 2002|JEAN MERL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Five years after a sprawling landfill on the affluent Palos Verdes Peninsula accepted its last truckload of trash, the site's owner--Los Angeles County--announced plans to build a public golf course there.

That was in 1985.

Now, a private developer--the only one to bid on the project--is hoping to gain approval for what would be the first new county-owned 18-hole golf course in more than three decades.

The 110-acre project, on a large chunk of the Palos Verdes Landfill site, also would include a seven-acre equestrian center as well as riding and hiking trails along its perimeter.

"We think it will be a real asset to the community," said Rob Katherman, a longtime Palos Verdes Peninsula resident and a Los Angeles City Hall lobbyist who helped form Meritage Rolling Hills Golf to design, build and operate the course.

The developer would shoulder construction and most other costs associated with the project and pay the cash-strapped county a percentage of the revenue.

Meritage's $12-million proposal, which calls for a Mediterranean-style clubhouse, is undergoing environmental reviews. The report on those reviews, expected to be released this summer, will set the stage for public hearings and, ultimately, a decision by the county Board of Supervisors.

But a well-organized group of residents in surrounding communities is campaigning hard to stop the project.

The residents contend that the old-style landfill accepted enough toxins in its day to threaten the adjacent homes, two schools and two churches if the material is disturbed through grading and the regular heavy irrigation required for a golf course.

They also say that ground water supplies would be threatened if the development were to dislodge the many tons of liquid industrial solvents and other toxins entombed in the landfill, which lacks the protective bottom liner and clay cap required for newer landfills.

And they are not waiting for the environmental impact report, which they already are attacking as insufficient.

They believe the site should be reserved for uses that do not require a lot of grading, soil importation or watering, including the existing 115-horse stables and riding areas, a nature center, a picnic area and bicycle, jogging and walking paths.

The equestrian facilities would be moved under the Meritage proposal. The developer would provide the land for the equestrian center, but the city of Rolling Hills Estates would have to pay for relocating the municipally owned facility, probably with state parks bond funds.

"Putting a golf course there is a very bad idea," said Joan Davidson, a former local school board president who recently led the formation of South Bay CARES (Citizens Aligned for Responsible Environmental Solutions) to fight the project.

In the weeks following Meritage's public unveiling of its proposal in February, South Bay CARES organizers began enlisting prominent community members, including a former state assemblyman and the president of the school board in Torrance, where a mudslide of still-undetermined cause 15 months ago damaged homes built in the 1970s right below the landfill.

They have dug through old documents about the landfill and launched a Web site www.southbaycares.org that they update almost daily. They contacted local school boards and surrounding cities and persuaded officials in two of them--Rolling Hills Estates, whose boundaries include the landfill, and Rancho Palos Verdes--to write letters to the county expressing concerns about possible environmental hazards at two nearby schools.

"We consider this a sleeping giant, and we don't want to see it awakened," South Bay CARES executive committee member Christina Zimmerman said as she and several others recently conducted an unofficial tour of the site.

The developer, however, said the opponents are using outdated information and not taking into account the modern methods he believes can help meet the demand for affordable golf while ensuring public safety.

The facility would join 17 other county courses--all operated by private firms--that yield about $16 million a year to the public treasury, said Steve Duron, golf operations administrator for the county Department of Parks and Recreation.

The Meritage site was used for mining and quarrying diatomaceous earth, sand and gravel during the first half of the 20th century and became a landfill in 1952. It was operated by a private refuse firm until the county Sanitation Districts took it over in 1957.

From 1964 until it closed in 1980, the Palos Verdes Landfill accepted hazardous wastes, including oil refinery wastes, pesticides, solvents and contaminated soil.

Although records are incomplete, county officials estimated that at one point during the 1970s, Palos Verdes was the disposal site for 40% of the Class 1, or most hazardous, waste in the Los Angeles region.

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