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Sun Valley recycling plant expansion faces neighborhood opposition

Neighbors complain of rats, debris and smells coming from the troubled Community Recycling & Resource Recovery, which has for years been receiving tons more waste than it's supposed to.

March 08, 2013|By Jessica Garrison, Los Angeles Times
  • Community Recycling & Resource Recovery has been operating its massive, open-air waste-sorting operation for nearly a decade without full permits from the city and state.
Community Recycling & Resource Recovery has been operating its massive,… (Michael Robinson Chavez…)

Complaining about "rats the size of small dogs," debris that falls like thick snow and a pervasive, rancid odor, neighbors at a public hearing Friday protested a plan to expand a Sun Valley recycling operation into one of the largest waste-transfer facilities in the state.

"Vermin run rampant," said Gary Aggas, president of the Sun Valley Neighborhood Council and one of many residents to testify before a city planning officer about the matter. "Dust blows through the neighborhood constantly.... Our children and grandchildren should not be subjected to conditions that can be prevented."

Community Recycling & Resource Recovery has been operating its massive, open-air waste-sorting operation for nearly a decade without full permits from the city and state. The facility has permits to take in about 1,700 tons a day but has been receiving up to 4,600 over the last decade. The excess waste was authorized under a 2007 agreement with the city that was supposed to last for just a few months but has flowed in for years because of bureaucratic delays.

Now the operation, which sorts and processes yard waste, construction debris and supermarket scraps, wants to expand its operations to take in up to 6,700 tons a day. As part of its proposal, the company has pledged to enclose some of its operations to cut down on odors and air pollution.

Residents and nearby workers, however, want the company to put most of its operation indoors, in a building with air filters. They voiced concern that the issue has been drawn out until now, when District 6 is without a council member. Tony Cardenas, the former councilman, is now in Congress.

"There are days you can't walk outside. It's like it's snowing ... debris," said Fred Burhoe, an equipment supervisor at Security Paving, which is adjacent to the company. He said some of his workers have quit because their health is suffering, that he's seen dog-sized rats running from the facility and that chicken bones rain down on his roof from the beaks of scavenging gulls.

"It's the dirtiest facility I've ever been near, and I've worked on a number of landfills," he said. "This thing should not be permitted to run like this."

Company officials listened silently for two hours. Then Fred Gaines, a lawyer for the Community Recycling, pledged to work with the community to improve conditions.

He said company officials want to build "a modern, well-mitigated facility that can continue to do all the good work it has done."

The facility has a complicated — at times tortured — history with the city.

City officials sued Community Recycling in 2004 for environmental violations and filed cease-and-desist orders against it in 2004 and 2006. But it stayed those orders six years ago.

The city heavily relies on the facility. The operation processes more than 10% of the yard clippings picked up by city garbage trucks and nearly 40% of the food recycled from a restaurant composting program. A crackdown could imperil a recycling system that elected officials tout as one of the nation's best.

The company has contributed to one of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's signature environmental projects, pledging in 2008 to give $15 million worth of trees to the Million Trees Initiative — although it has only partially fulfilled that pledge.

These days, city inspectors visit the facility at least every two weeks and sometimes more often. Each time, according to state regulations, they issue "violations" because the facility is taking in more waste than it is permitted to accept. But they take no further action, in part because they have allowed the company to operate without full permits.

Wayne Tsuda, the official in charge of those inspections, noted that he continually receives complaints about dust and odor.

After listening to a colorful, often disgusting, litany of those complaints, Daniel P. O'Donnell, the city planner who presided over the hearing, urged company officials, residents and city officials to work together to come up with an improvement plan before the company's proposal moves to the city Planning Commission later this spring.

If the feuding parties can't reach an agreement, O'Donnell will make his own recommendation to the commission.

"Something has to be done," he said.

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