GUEST COMMENTARY-There has been a lot of ink about José Huizar’s precipitous fall from being the all-powerful chair of the Los Angeles City Council Planning and Land Use Management Committee (PLUM) to being indicted on Federal racketeering charges.
Not so much has been written recently about the good that he did for the communities he represented, from historic preservation to Safe Streets, from his compassion and advocacy on behalf of the homeless to his environmental leadership.
Five years ago, Huizar was a leader in the fight to oppose the unnecessary expansion plans for the Scholl Canyon Landfill, located just behind the hills above the 134 Freeway and accessed via Figueroa Street near the Eagle Rock Recreation Center. While the Scholl dump is on the outskirts of Glendale, it overlooks northeast Los Angeles (NELA) and any changes there affect their neighborhoods' health, safety, and economy.
Two years ago, Glendale hatched another plan – for a "Biogas Renewable Generation Project" – an on-site processing plant for the natural gas produced by the existing garbage in the dump. Although it is listed in Eagle Rock’s 90041 zip code, Glendale still clearly refuses to seriously take the interests of Eagle Rock stakeholders into consideration.
After being rejected in 2018 with strong opposition from NELA, Glendale Power and Water (GWP) submitted a Draft EIR (Environmental Impact Report) but its comparisons are questionable. Baseline conditions should FOREVER be based on the dump never having been there. Only then will an EIR address the true impact.
This draft EIR is as pretty a piece of greenwashing I have ever seen and deserves to be consigned to the dump it purports to promote.
To quote Business News Daily, “greenwashing is when a company or organization spends more time and money on marketing themselves as environmentally friendly than on minimizing their environmental impact. It is a deceitful advertising gimmick intended to mislead consumers. . .”
If you want to add your voice against it, comments are due this Wednesday. Further information can be found here and at the end of this article.
The Los Angeles City Attorney is against Glendale’s actions and the Chief Legislative Analyst has filed a letter on behalf of CD 14’s constituents. But too often money speaks louder than words. Unless and until there is a groundswell of opposition like what Huizar led when Glendale tried to expand the dump six or seven years ago, we in the northeast are at risk.
The dump, aka the Scholl Canyon Landfill, was opened in 1961 and the original agreement with LA County stated that the right to use the property was for 17 years or until it has served its purpose, whichever first occurs.
Which meant the dump should have closed in the late 1970s, but Glendale kept extending its use. And the income the city derives from it. Glendale needs to shut the dump down as was required to have been done decades ago and clean up the environmental mess.
The fact that it is long past its termination date means that the Scholl Canyon Landfill does not meet the 1998 Environmental Protection Agency requirement for an “impermeable barrier” separating the toxic compounds that build up in and travel through massive trash piles, even in landfills designated for household waste, from the water table.
The dump is built upon fractured rock which allows seepage, albeit slowly. Despite claims in the Draft EIR to the contrary, this is NOT a non-hazardous landfill. In fact, five years ago a geologist from UCLA submitted a report documenting that compounds known to cause cancer exist in test wells west of the dump.
Impact of the proposed project on Northeast Los Angeles
The Biogas Renewable Generation Project proponents claim it would beneficially use naturally occurring landfill gas from the Scholl Canyon Landfill as a renewable fuel to generate electricity.
First of all, it is NOT naturally occurring: it is a direct result of Glendale creating and operating and NOT closing the dump as it was required to do decades ago. And it is NOT renewable in that it will require the continued operation of the dump with all its negative impacts on surrounding communities to provide a continuing source of methane. Yes, the existing content of the dump will continue to expel biogases for years but that is all the more reason for Glendale to clean up their garbage dump rather than to expand it.
Furthermore, it adversely affects the health of tens of thousands of people, especially children and the elderly, in neighborhoods of Glendale, Eagle Rock, Pasadena, Highland Park, La Cañada, Montrose, Glassell Park and more.
All the greenwashing in the world does not change the fact that anything but the removal and clean-up of the dump is detrimental to the people of Glendale and the surrounding communities.
And that Glendale has been flaring the methane at Scholl Canyon since April 2018, polluting the air we breathe, coating our homes and parks with particulate matter which is known to contain toxins and contributing to global warming.
Residents within a two-mile radius have complained of difficulty breathing as well as soot and particulate material on homes, in pools and on cars. My pool had a greasy black bathtub ring as if it had been used by a carbon Cat-in-the-Hat and cloned itself in my shower when I tried to wash it off. These effects and more will only grow over time and expand as the wind spreads the pollutants further afield.
Burning natural gas in future years is also in direct opposition to a state mandate requiring 100 percent power from non-carbon-based sources by 2045.
And how far can we trust people regarding safety when they are trying to make a dollar? Neither Glendale, nor Pasadena, nor Eagle Rock deserve to become the next Porter Ranch.
Considering its impact on climate change, capturing methane gas from the dump may be better than flaring it – but it IS not and should NOT be referred to as a renewable energy source. To generate power, whether as LFG or LNG or NatGas, the methane still needs to be burned, polluting our air, and further affecting the neighborhood.
This also gets into the demolition and construction which will further degrade quality of life for people living in Northeast LA. On top of the constant trash hauling – NONE of their own making as Glendale prohibits LA residents from using the dump – those living in Highland Park and Eagle Rock will now have construction vehicles and diesel fumes, construction noise and dust, and high-powered lights during night-work. NOT ACCEPTABLE.
Glendale MUST follow CEQA guidelines and address the CUMULATIVE effect of its polluting i.e. in ADDITION to the existing problems – including the eight freeways that transect the adjacent area and the impact of the industrial pollution in including elevated levels of lead due to improper battery recycling pollution in neighborhoods to the south and east of Eagle Rock.
In coming years, the health impacts to lower-income communities of color due to functional red-lining will and should be litigated. Anything adding to the existing hazards need to be put on hold. Now.
Then there is the risk of earthquakes: the area had a good jolt a week or so ago from a 4.5 magnitude quake with an epicenter 10 miles removed.
The Verdugo fault lies less than half a mile from the dump is capable of earthquakes up to 6.9 on the Richter scale. There are 12 more faults within a 15-mile radius, with one capable of reaching magnitude 7.8.
Any fracturing of gas production and collection hardware including pipelines and storage containers at the dump would release toxic gas and, very likely, lead to explosions and fires right in the city.
It is never one issue, it’s a compounding of them. The lead in the pipes of Flint, MI were not a problem until the state decided to use a cheaper water source and discontinue corrosion treatments; thalidomide was a safe drug, until given to pregnant women; building apartment buildings on the cheaper land near abandoned oil wells in South Central made economic sense, until fracking came along.
Noise, which the DEIR acknowledges will be a factor, is known to negatively impact children’s learning and behavior. You are not talking a few days; you are talking 15 to 18 MONTHS. Ongoing noise is stressful, disruptive and can aggravate both medical and psychological conditions.
Furthermore, it is disruptive to wildlife. Deer abound in the area as well as opossum, raccoons, skunks, lizards, birds, and insects, all of which perform useful functions in the ecosystem.
Operating a gas plant in an area of known fire risk is tempting the climate gods. At issue is not whether the facility would contribute to an increased danger of wildfires; the gas itself is flammable, the possibility for explosions high; and the real question is what toxins would be released into the air and groundwater if a wildfire swept through the dump.
Given the toxicity of materials at the dump itself and inherent in biogas production, storage and shipping, any wildfire would have extreme impact on people in the area and would limit firefighters’ ability to fight the flames. One of firefighters’ worst fears are dump fires because they just don’t know what chemicals they are facing. It also restricts what mediums can be used to tame the flames.
As with the above-referenced dump expansion, there are serious concerns about air quality -- especially toxic particulate matter, groundwater contamination, noise, and aesthetics (since the proposed location above Eagle Rock already has visible lights and trailers) both during and after the construction period. The location will probably have to be significantly expanded to accommodate the water tanks and the lights and noise will be an ongoing concern for Eagle Rock since it appears that the BioGas Renewable Generation plant will operate 24-7.
The sole access point is at the northern end of Figueroa, adjacent to homes, schools, a major City park, and a historic cultural monument -- all in the City of Los Angeles so City stakeholders bear a significant burden from the current operation of the landfill, including trash and debris, noise, pollution, traffic, and deteriorating road conditions in the areas around the entrance to the landfill.
The construction itself which is estimated to take 15 to 18 months (and WHEN did a project of this complexity ever finish on schedule?) will further exacerbate the use of the Figueroa corridor since the Glendale City Council refused to allow dump trucks to use the Glenoaks Blvd access many decades ago.
Meanwhile the dump continues to percolate known carcinogens and other toxic chemicals through the fractured bedrock below it into the groundwater west of the landfill adjacent to City water supplies.
Pollution doesn't just stop at the border of Glendale or even Eagle Rock.
The Verdugo and Scholl Canyon faults run through the site but any earthquake damage from them or the more dangerous faults close-by will certainly affect Los Angeles including releasing more dangerous contaminants from the dump. If pipes rupture, the gas and explosions won't magically stop at a city line. If there is a leak, how will Glendale evacuate and compensate the Los Angeles communities affected?
Their argument that it is the best solution is spurious. The best, the only, solution is to close the dump. And yes, that will cost money. Lots of it. But Glendale has made money off the dump for decades, especially if you factor in the cost of disposing of their own garbage elsewhere.
The dump NEEDS to be closed, and the city of Glendale should be REQUIRED to fund a full environmental cleanup and mitigation of effects of such clean up on the surrounding communities.
Comments close on the DEIR on September 30, 2020; send yours, be it 10 pages or 10 lines, to: Erik Krause, Director of Community Development, City of Glendale, Community Development Department, 633 E. Broadway, Suite 103, Glendale, CA 91206-4311; fax (818) 240-0392 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Liz Amsden is an activist from Northeast Los Angeles with opinions on much of what goes on in our lives. She also writes on behalf of the Budget Advocates’ mission regarding the City’s budget and services. In her real life she works on budgets, for film and television, where fiction can rarely be as strange as the truth of living in today’s world.) Photo: Roger Wilson / LAT Staff Photographer) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.