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DUMP'S NEW IMAGE LANDFILL OPERATOR CLEANS UP NAME WITH LOCAL OUTREACH.

Byline: Kerry Cavanaugh Staff Writer

SUN VALLEY - After decades of brushing off complaints about odors, dust and rumbling trash trucks, the operators of Bradley Landfill have started taking a kinder, gentler approach in trying to win support from their neighbors for expanding the dump.

In the past year, Waste Management Inc., the nation's largest trash company, has sought grant money for a new median to prevent street racing, offered a class for community members studying to take the U.S. citizenship test, initiated a recycling program at a local school and chipped in on four decorative gateways at the entrance to Sun Valley.

Landfill managers have also spearheaded a Sun Valley beautification effort, spent thousands of dollars on neighborhood cleanups and appointed a full-time employee to lead community improvement projects.

``We understand we have to be a good neighbor if we want to keep operating in Sun Valley,'' said Kit Cole, who was hired by Waste Management to manage community relations at the landfill. ``It's no longer optional. It's mandatory.''

So far, the landfill has won some friends in Sun Valley and caught the attention of area politicians.

But there's no telling - yet - whether Waste Management's efforts will persuade the Los Angeles City Council to allow the dump to raise its height by 43 feet or build a permanent trash-transfer station on site if the city starts hauling to remote dumps.

Longtime opponents of the landfill said Waste Management is simply ``green-washing'' their operations - adopting environmentally friendly slogans and easy projects without making changes at the dump that would truly improve Sun Valley's environment.

``They can put in all the trees they want. It doesn't make the methane go away. It doesn't make vinyl chloride and dust and air pollution go away,'' said Ellen Mackey with the East Valley Coalition. ``It's all P.R. It's all spin. It's all green-washing.''

Over the past 50 years, Bradley Landfill has slowly grown into a dirt mountain that towers over Sun Valley, a largely low-income, immigrant community with homes alongside heavy industry.

In the past, Waste Management's outreach efforts were limited to the Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club, with a few checks written to the local nonprofit groups.

Bradley managers paid little heed to residents' complaints about dust and odors from the unsightly brown mountain. The landfill racked up citations for high levels of explosive landfill gas.

Long-simmering community frustration with the giant landfill boiled over in 2003, when hundreds of furious residents packed the Sun Valley Middle School auditorium to denounce the dump and fight what was supposed to be a bureaucratic slam-dunk permit change for Bradley.

Change of opinion

The permit process dragged on for six months before approval. And it prompted a new organized opposition effort that lined up politicians, including Mayor James Hahn and most of the City Council members from the northeast San Fernando Valley, to denounce the dump.

The meeting was a ``real eye-opener,'' said Waste Management's district manager, Doug Corcoran.

``I came away from that meeting with a very different opinion on public opinion, and we've been working really hard since then.''

Now Waste Management has a bigger proposal on the horizon. It wants to expand the dump, raising the height by 43 feet, the equivalent of a four-story building. It also wants to build a permanent transfer station, where 7,000 tons of trash a day would be dropped and reloaded onto long-haul trucks.

The company says it needs the expansion to keep 200 landfill employees working while the transfer station is built.

Bradley Landfill managers realized public opinion could not only kill their proposals, but ultimately drive the company out of Sun Valley and loosen its grip on the lucrative Los Angeles trash market.

To win the support of the community it long ignored, Waste Management hired Cole to help reshape the landfill's image and business ethic, and began redirecting more corporate donations toward local groups.

At the landfill, Bradley managers hired a meteorologist and a team of odor experts to minimize the smell of rotting trash. They've also brought in more natural gas-fueled trash trucks and tried to reach out to community opposition through the landfill's community advisory committee.

To sweeten the expansion proposal, Waste Management offered $4 million to the community - or $2 per ton of trash received at the dump until it closes.

Cleaning up

Outside the landfill gates, Waste Management has begun applying for grants to install decorative gateways into Sun Valley and applied for funds on behalf of the police to get a median built on a stretch of Glenoaks Boulevard popular with street racers.

The company gave a half-dozen community groups $1,000 apiece, plus equipment, hats and T-shirts for beautification projects. Teens have chopped ugly, dead oleanders cut from along the Metrolink tracks and tossed them into Waste Management's green waste bins. Other groups installed a native plant garden at a local elementary school and painted a mural promoting recycling at another school.

``It's about more than money,'' Cole said. ``We're happy to give to groups in the community financially, but the real meaningful work is what we initiate on our own in the Sun Valley community.''

``There's a big difference between writing a check and digging a hole and planting a tree. We need to do both.''

Key decision makers have noted Waste Management's efforts, including Councilman Tony Cardenas, who represents Sun Valley and will be the key vote on whether the landfill expansion is approved. He's still skeptical.

``I've seen positive efforts by Waste Management, but it is nowhere near the level of support the community needs.''

The campaign has changed some minds, including that of Sun Valley Neighborhood Council President Dennis O'Sullivan.

``Ten years ago I had no use for Waste Management at all,'' he said. ``The people managing Waste Management were not community-related.''

However, he's been impressed by the company's turnaround and efforts to improve Sun Valley.

A manager at a local homeless and drug-abuse-rehabilitation center by day, O'Sullivan also sits on the Bradley Landfill Community Advisory Committee, which is looking at the dump's operations and expansion plans.

``Nobody has come to the plate as environmentally and community-wise as Waste Management. I've been surprised.''

But other community activists feel that Waste Management, with more than $11 billion in revenue last year, can afford to make more substantial improvements in Sun Valley and at the landfill.

``Their intentions appear good, but it's a real pittance,'' said Maria Sesma Sooy, an outreach consultant at Fernangeles Elementary School, about a mile from the landfill. ``I don't see any substantive change in appearance, smell. And there's certainly no change in the height of the landfill.''

Kerry Cavanaugh, (818) 713-3746

kerry.cavanaugh(at)dailynews.com

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

(color) Victor Morales, 16, drags a dead oleander to a trash bin during a Waste Management-sponsored community cleanup.

Michael Owen Baker/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 1, 2005
Words:1145
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