SUN VALLEY PUSHES FOR A TRUST FUND LEADERS: MITIGATION MONEY SHOULD STAY IN COMMUNITY.
Worried that nearly $200,000 a year in community improvement money paid by local trash businesses will be spent instead on political pet projects or faraway ventures, Sun Valley leaders are pushing for a trust fund to keep the money close to home.
Several Sun Valley trash and recycling businesses are planning expansions that could bring in 17,200 tons of refuse per day, and Councilman Tony Cardenas has said he will support only those projects that include money for community improvements.
But northeast San Fernando Valley residents have clashed with city leaders before over community mitigation money. So now the neighborhood council has asked the City Council to set up a trust fund and a citizens steering committee to manage mitigation fees and fines collected from Sun Valley waste, mining and auto-repair businesses.
``We've learned by experience that mitigation money is often, over time, not used for mitigation, but for pet projects,'' said Mary Benson, vice president of the Sun Valley Neighborhood Council.
``When you start talking about millions of dollars coming to Sun Valley, you have to be very careful about how you allow people to access that.''
Sun Valley is just the latest Valley community to grapple with how to ensure that millions of dollars in mitigation funds from massive landfills stay in their communities. Granada Hills and Lake View Terrace also are wrestling with the issue.
Under the Sun Valley proposal, money from the fund can only be spent within the Sun Valley Environmental Justice Improvement Zone and cannot be diverted by City Council members or the mayor.
Cardenas, who represents the area, agrees with the concept and recently introduced a motion to create a Sun Valley trust fund.
``My objective is to keep all the money in the 6th District, primarily in the areas most affected,'' he said. ``Nothing is going to happen without consulting the community.''
So far, one company, Sun Valley Paper Stock, has agreed to pay up to $90,000 a year into a community benefit fund in exchange for permission to expand.
Waste Management, which owns Bradley Landfill, has offered $100,000 a year if given permission to open a 7,500-ton-per-day transfer station, and $2 per ton if the landfill expands.
Several other trash companies are planning expansions that could bring 17,200 tons of rubbish into Sun Valley every day.
Cardenas said he has met with the companies and warned them: ``No more bare minimum. If you want to do business here, then you have to mitigate.''
Waste Management District Manager Doug Corcoran is willing to dedicate company dollars to a community trust fund, but he promises to make a lot of noise if the money is moved outside the area.
``We're open to just about anything as long as it's legitimate, authentic improvements in the community. We don't want a lot of money on overhead. We don't want it spent on pet projects that aren't specific and meaningful to Sun Valley.''
But residents recently cited City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo's earmarking of $50,000 from an environmental settlement with Bradley Landfill for a children's nonprofit that offers no services near Sun Valley.
Residents grumbled over the settlement in December between Delgadillo and Waste Management to rectify long-standing odor violations from Bradley Landfill. The company agreed to make on-site improvements and pay $75,000 to two charities.
Some $25,000 went to Communities in Schools for gang intervention and job fairs in Sun Valley.
But $50,000 went to Para Los Ninos, an educational nonprofit serving low-income children in families. The group doesn't currently have programs in Sun Valley or the northeast San Fernando Valley, but Delgadillo had served on the group's honorary advisory board.
Delgadillo spokesman Nick Velasquez said the city attorney chose Para Los Ninos because it's a reputable charity that expects to introduce some services into the San Fernando Valley in the future.
``Sun Valley is part of the San Fernando Valley. The benefits are going to be going into Sun Valley as Para Los Ninos expands into the San Fernando Valley,'' Velasquez said.
That still bothers Carol Silver, a Sun Valley business owner who sits on the Bradley Landfill Citizen Advisory Committee. She would like to see community amenity funds in a local bank or managed by a local nonprofit to ensure that the dollars aren't misappropriated.
``Mr. Delgadillo and his friends should not be involved in taking money out of the community. If they are fining a company, then the money should be coming back to the community,'' Silver said.
Community leaders say their concerns are based on past battles with City Council over mitigation money.
Lopez Canyon Landfill in Lake View Terrace established a $5 million community amenities fund before it closed.
But neighborhood groups sued the city in 1992 after then-City Councilman Ernani Bernardi gave $700,000 to an anti-gang program in Pacoima. The groups said the money should have been spent on improvements for the residents living closest to the dump.
The residents dropped their lawsuit when then-Councilman Richard Alarcon took office and appointed a citizens advisory committee to oversee the trust-fund spending.
When Councilman Alex Padilla took office he began overseeing the fund himself, doling out dollars for the Pacoima Christmas Parade, a Hansen Dam fireworks show and development of an open-space park in response to community requests.
``The community makes a request and I say yes and we fill it. Do we need an extra bureaucracy? I can't recall a time when there was a reasonable request that we didn't fill,'' Padilla said recently when asked about the community advisory committee.
However, residents of Kagel Canyon next to the old dump protested in 2004 when Padilla transferred $111,000 earmarked for Dexter Park to his own discretionary fund. The Lopez Canyon fund still has about $283,000.
The City Council has also established community trust funds for Sunshine Canyon Landfill and the Central Los Angeles Recycling and Transfer Station that collect money based on the amount of trash handled at each facility.
Based in downtown Los Angeles, the transfer station fund is overseen by 14th District councilman Jose Huizar, who has directed funds to a Roosevelt High School cheerleading program. Previous district council members have given funds to the Eagle Rock Community Cultural Association for murals and Para Los Ninos for turkey giveaways and holiday events.
So far, the Sunshine fund has accumulated $1.12 million since the city side of the landfill opened in July.
City ordinance requires that the money be reviewed by an oversight committee and spent within five miles of the Granada Hills landfill.
In the past, the committee has recommended that landfill funds be used for local parks and supplies at Van Gogh Elementary School.
Last year Councilman Greig Smith spent the interest from the original fund -- $137,000 -- on a study on alternatives to landfills.
``The council office is committed to working with the community to make sure the community benefits ... because that's the intention and spirit of what an amenities fund is,'' said Mitchell Englander, chief of staff for Smith.
Longtime landfill activist, and now chairwoman of the Granada Hills North Neighborhood Council, Kim Thompson said she hopes the council will have a say in how the money is spent.
Though her council hasn't yet discussed the windfall, Thompson would like to pool the money with neighborhood council dollars, land grants and other local funds to buy and preserve open space around the landfill.
``There is no doubt that the money should be kept within the same area that is impacted, and any committee that is formed should be made up only of neighborhood residents,'' Thompson said.