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Leave this ex-landfill alone

Now that a court has temporarily blocked plans to allow a trucking school to operate on the former Lopez Canyon landfill, the city should abandon the idea.

May 23, 2011

Nobody likes to live near a landfill. But somebody has to. The residents of the northeastern San Fernando Valley who ring the grassy expanse of Lopez Canyon, once one of the city's biggest garbage dumps, lived unhappily with this industrial intrusion for two decades. From 1975 to 1996, trucks rumbled across the 400-acre property, dumping a total of 16.5 million tons of trash. After it closed, the city promised the long-suffering residents that the land would be designated as open space and, when environmentally safe, would be turned into a park and recreation area.

But a few years ago, City Councilman Richard Alarcon — who was instrumental in getting the landfill closed — suggested and won City Council support for a trucking school that would be allowed to operate on an expanse of asphalt on part of the landfill for five years, with an option to renew. It would be a temporary program, he said, that would train people for jobs while the landfill "settled," which can take three decades.

Outraged resident groups fought the city at the political level and eventually in the courts. The trucking project was a betrayal of the city's promise and inconsistent with the land's designation as open space, argued the Community Alliance for Open Space. The group suggested, among other things, that operating a trucking academy on top of a landfill steeped in underground methane gas produced by the rotting garbage could be dangerous. The suit raised the specter of an explosion.

Last week, a judge ruled that the city had improperly granted a zoning variance for the trucking school and had violated the California Environmental Quality Act, just as the community group charged. The judge will probably order the city to do a full environmental impact report. And the city could go back and do that. But we have a suggestion for the City Council: Don't bother.

Instead, forget the trucking school. Not because there's no need for jobs and job training, but because the city ought to keep its promise to the people who took in all that garbage for 21 years. And if the training facility will be as unobtrusive and take up as little space as Alarcon said it will — "like taking 10 seats out of Dodger Stadium" — then the city should be able to find someplace else for it.

It's true that the closed landfill can't be turned into a recreation center yet. And it's true that there are already trucks on top of the landfill doing the work of closing it and taking green waste to a still-operating mulching facility. But that's not a reason to bring in more trucks. Just leave the landfill — and the residents — to settle.

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