Tired of living in the shadow of smelly trash yards, community activists have pressured recycling and refuse companies to make multimillion-dollar improvements that will result in cleaner, greener businesses.
SUN VALLEY, California Tired of living in the shadow of smelly trash yards, community activists have pressured recycling and refuse companies to make multimillion-dollar improvements that will result in cleaner, greener businesses.
In a victory for city regulators as well as community watchdogs, three companies in this highly industrial corner of the northeast San Fernando Valley already have committed to landscape their properties and to enclose their trash-sorting operations to cut odors and dust. Other companies are considering improvements as well.
While local activists say they are still far from making Sun Valley the healthy community it should be, they are encouraged that their campaign to end Sun Valley's image as a dumping ground is making progress.
"The one thing we have done is shine a light on Sun Valley," said Ellen Mackey with the East Valley Coalition and One-LA. "It's in the spotlight. There's no going back now.
"We're not anti-business. We're just anti-degradation of the area. We just want to make sure whatever businesses go in and expand are doing so and enhancing the community and not to the detriment of the community."
The activists' effort coincides with a boom in the local recycling business. The city of Los Angeles is launching campaigns to encourage residents to reuse up to 70 percent of their trash, and recycling companies are expanding to meet the anticipated demand.
That has prompted some officials, including City Councilman Tony Cardenas, to demand more from local companies. Landscaping and tidy yards are fine, Cardenas said, but he wants trash and recycling businesses to pay a per-ton fee that could be used to fund street lights or health clinics.
"They need to offer much more to the community," Cardenas said. "These businesses have been parking themselves in Sun Valley far too long and have had detrimental health impacts and have not done anything commensurate of what's needed in return."
At Sun Valley Paper Stock -- which has applied to receive, sort and resell 750 tons per day of curbside recyclables from Los Angeles, San Fernando and La Crescenta -- the owner initially planned to build a giant canopy over a paved area where garbage trucks dump their loads. But Mackey and fellow activists cornered General Manager Leonard Lang at a meeting and pleaded with him to redesign his project.
"We probably could have gone on and run it through," Lang said of the company's initial plan. "But we said, why not sit down and talk to these people about their concerns?"
Sun Valley Paper Stock eventually agreed to construct a 12,000-square-foot building to house its expanding recycling operation. The warehouse will have equipment to neutralize odors and misters to suppress dust.
Native-plant experts selected a colorful palate of drought-tolerant foliage -- from California sycamores to wild lilac -- to line San Fernando Boulevard. And Lang got permission from Caltrans to landscape and plant trees along the Golden State Freeway so motorists won't have look down on the sorted piles of bottles, cans and plastics. In addition, the company will pay up to 7,500 per month into a community benefits fund initiated by Cardenas' office.
In the end, the community activists got almost everything they sought.
"If people don't want it to stink, it won't stink," said Lang, who has worked in Sun Valley for more than two decades.
"If you don't want dust, fine, we'll take care of the dust. If you're going to plant, why not plant the right stuff? I can relate to people who live here and want to have a nicer, more attractive neighborhood, and I don't think that's unreasonable."
A few blocks away, two companies -- Community Recycling/Crown Disposal and American Waste Industries -- also agreed to revamp their yards after settling civil lawsuits filed by City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo's office. Each company had racked up community complaints and violations for excessive odors and dust.
American Waste on Pendleton Street collects and recycles construction debris and wood. As part of the settlement, the company agreed to enclose its operations and install solar panels on the roof. The company has applied to take in 1,500 tons per day.
Community Recycling on DeGarmo Avenue processes about 4,800 tons per day of construction debris, food waste for compost, green waste and household recyclables in an open-air operation. The company is applying to take in 6,700 tons per day.
Under the settlement, the company will build a warehouse the size of two side-by-side football fields and equipped with an air-filtration system to house the smellier green waste and food waste processes. Trash and construction debris will be sorted in three-sided buildings that shield the operation from the street, and the company will add native plants, trees and a decorative wall.
It's an expensive renovation, but it's the cost of doing business now in Sun Valley.
"This is millions and millions dollars' worth of improvements," said Fred Gaines, an attorney representing Community Recycling. "These are services that are needed. ... My client wants to continue to provide that service. "The demand is there so economically it will makes sense."
Indeed, the trash business is booming. The city of Los Angeles has unveiled new programs to recycle from apartments, restaurants and strip malls. Plus the city is considering trucking trash outside the Antelope Valley and Riverside County. If that happens, the city will need transfer stations for garbage trucks to drop their loads and be reloaded onto long-haul trucks.
In response, some five companies have proposed building or expanding transfer stations and recycling operations in Sun Valley.
The largest proposal, by Waste Management Inc., would put an enclosed, 7,000-ton-a-day transfer station at Bradley Landfill.
Even with the cleaner, greener facilities proposed, some Sun Valley residents are wary of expanding an inherently dirty industry.
"As you go around Sun Valley, it's landfills, gravel pits, auto dismantlers," said Charles Addcox, a resident and vice principal at Fernangeles Elementary School. "I would like businesses around here to be responsible and be in compliance. And I would like to limit the influx of other business that will impact the environment."
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