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Neighbors Trash Plans to Extend the Life of Sun Valley Municipal Landfill

Operator of the Bradley facility seeks approvals to allow the mountain of garbage to grow. Residents feel the city is dumping on them.

January 12, 2003|Wendy Thermos | Times Staff Writer

Every minute of every day, someone in Burbank, Sylmar or Van Nuys unwittingly delivers a dose of aggravation to Ellen Mackey and her neighbors in Sun Valley.

It might be a busboy scraping leftovers off a plate in an all-night diner, a construction worker demolishing an old building, or an apartment dweller buying a cache of individually wrapped frozen meals to get through the week.

The detritus from those activities goes into the trash can, and eventually arrives by the truckload at Bradley Landfill, the only municipal dump in Los Angeles city limits.

Mackey and homeowner activists, backed by several politicians, say it's time for working-class Sun Valley to stop being a dumping ground for everyone else's garbage. The Sun Valley area is home to at least 16 closed landfills and a dozen recycling centers or private commercial waste facilities.

"Good people in this city who would be quick to write a check to help children in Third World nations are impacting the health of children in this community by sending their trash here," said Mackey, who sits on a mayoral committee appointed to find alternative sites and technologies for trash disposal. "It seems like you can't toss a stone without hitting an old landfill."

Waste Management Inc., Bradley's owner, denies that the landfill is a source of medical ailments, and says it needs to keep operating the dump until there is someplace else for trash to go.

"The waste will continue to be generated. It's going to have to go somewhere," said Doug Corcoran, Bradley's manager.

Controversy over Bradley has intensified this month. On Tuesday, the state Integrated Waste Management Board will decide whether to add 10 feet to the landfill's allowable maximum height of 1,000 feet above sea level.

And by early February, the city Planning Department is expected to hold the first of a series of environmental hearings on Waste Management's proposal to extend the dump's lifespan through April 2007 by adding an additional 43 feet -- the equivalent of a four-story building -- to the maximum height.

Mackey and others oppose both expansions. Although Bradley's permit revision is expected to be routinely approved because few people know about it, she said, "We're going to give them a really hard fight" on the additional 43 feet. Without the extra capacity, the landfill would run out of space by early next year, officials say.

At 990 feet above sea level, Bradley's mountain of rubbish towers over Sun Valley, where commercial and residential areas abut the landfill boundaries. Waste Management plans to eventually use the site for a recycling center and transfer station that would send garbage out of town. No destination has been found, but city officials are looking.

Dumps everywhere are filled nearly to the brim and ways are being sought through new technology to minimize the amount of garbage that must be buried. Alternatives such as waste-to-energy plants and clean-burning incinerators need several years of lead time to bring on line.

Meanwhile, garbage "does have to go somewhere, but does it have to be us?" asked Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, whose district includes Sun Valley. "People are very concerned about the prospect of having to take in other people's trash."

Residents who regard Bradley as a smelly eyesore and a possible source of asthma and allergies are angry that Bradley not only may continue to operate, but might loom higher than ever.

"There is not one person in the community that I have talked to who is for this expansion," said Carol Ziehler, a vocal Bradley critic. "I can see the dump from my house. I can't even see the foothills."

Opponents have an ally in Mayor James K. Hahn, who has said repeatedly he wants to close Bradley and Sunshine Canyon Landfill, which is just outside the city limits near Granada Hills. But action to close the dumps would require consent of the City Council.

Former Assemblyman Tony Cardenas last week joined the battle against Waste Management's expansion application. "Alternatives to landfills exist and it is time that we looked ahead to new technology to dispose of our waste," he said. Cardenas seeks to succeed Galanter on the City Council when she steps down July 1 because of term limits.

The assemblyman, a lifelong resident of the Sun Valley area, said he empathizes with neighbors of the dump because he has "breathed bad air all my life."

"It's been bad for years around here," agreed Ferly Perez, who has lived near the landfill for 19 years. "The smell is terrible, especially in the summer. I know it hurts the breathing of a lot of kids and older people."

Corcoran said no information to date shows Bradley is responsible for dust-induced respiratory ailments or other health problems. "We have the 210 and 5 freeways, gravel yards and cement processing plants, and the city has a hauling yard with diesel trucks. The assumption that the dust is all coming from Bradley is only because we're the biggest thing around."

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