Trash Talk

Pasadena and Eagle Rock residents anxiously await word from Glendale on proposed expansion of Scholl Canyon Landfill

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 5/14/2015

It’s been several months now, but Glendale is still reviewing comments made about an environmental impact report on a controversial plan to expand a local landfill.

The city claims that 535-acre Scholl Canyon Landfill will reach capacity by 2021, though many dispute that timeline. Opponents of expansion also say the city is trying to maximize revenue, while the city of Glendale says expansion is only one element of a multifaceted plan aimed at achieving their goal of landfilling “zero waste.”


For right now, no one is exactly sure what will happen with Scholl Canyon.


“Certainly we will remain vigilant,” said Luis Lopez of the Eagle Rock Association. “I know that both stakeholders and residents of Eagle Rock and Glendale are concerned and are watching this very closely.”

Landfilling: A Brief History


Before World War II, residents of Los Angeles County burned trash in their own backyards with private incinerators. By 1947 there were more than 300,000 backyard incinerators throughout the county, according to LA Almanac. After the war the incinerators were seen to be significant contributors to air pollution in the region. Cities began establishing residential trash collection operations despite opposition from homeowners. By 1958, backyard incinerators were completely banned.


“In the early years of the postwar garbage era, materials were still generally sorted by type and piled on the curb or in bins, sorted by type,” reads a report from the Center on Land Use Interpretation. “As garbage volume increased, this became more complicated. In 1961, to gain favor with his constituency, Mayor Sam Yorty declared that all trash could go in one bin, and the city would haul it away to a landfill. And so, landfills grew.”


The city’s Bureau of Sanitation operated several landfills until the 1990s, including the 4,218-acre Toyon Canyon Landfill in Griffith Park, which closed in 1985. An effort to expand that landfill into a neighboring canyon was defeated by activists led by Royce Neuschatz, a city of Los Angeles Recreation and Parks commissioner and regional planner who helped start the environmental group TreePeople.


The city still siphons methane gas from Toyon, with vertical extraction wells feeding a 4 megawatt electrical generating station and a flare station. According to the city’s sanitation website, the landfill generates 2 million cubic feet of gas per day, enough to power 4,500 homes.


Today private waste companies haul away and dispose of waste generated by most cities in LA County. There are currently 10 active Class III landfills (six major landfills and four minor landfills), one permitted inert waste landfill and two transformation (waste-to-energy) facilities operating in the county. These landfills receive approximately 20,000 tons of nonhazardous solid waste each day.


America’s largest landfill, Puente Hills, was shuttered and covered in 2013, shifting even more of a burden onto other area facilities, leaving officials to look for alternative ways to deal with an ever-growing pile of trash.

Unanswered Questions


Last year, the city of Glendale released a draft environmental impact report (DEIR) proposing two options that would expand the Scholl Canyon Landfill: a vertical expansion only (Variation 1) and a vertical and horizontal expansion (Variation 2). The report states that “Variation 1 would provide approximately 11.5 million cubic yards (or 5.5 million tons) of additional capacity, which would extend the landfill’s life by approximately 13 years,” assuming a continued baseline disposal rate of 1,400 tons per day, though even that figure is disputed. “Variation 2 would provide approximately 16.5 million cubic yards (or 8 million tons) of additional capacity, which would extend the landfill’s life by approximately 19 years” to 2040. Under both variations, the height of the landfill would be increased from 1,525 feet above sea level to 1,705 feet.


The public comment period for the DEIR closed on Aug. 29. A variation has not yet been selected and the city has not announced a release date for the final EIR.


“The project has not been abandoned,” said Tom Lorenz, Glendale’s director of communications and community relations. “The city and county sanitation districts are in the process of answering the written comments submitted. Once all written comments have been addressed, each submitter will receive a response as well as all comments and replies will be posted on the city website. The Glendale City Council will ultimately be responsible for selecting a project.”


Lopez, who serves as secretary of the Eagle Rock Association, said they are still waiting to hear from the city regarding their concerns and comments to the DEIR.


“To my knowledge the city of Glendale has not responded to any of the submitted comments on the EIR,” he said. “We certainly have not received a response at the Eagle Rock Association.”


At a rally in August protesting the expansion, Los Angeles City Councilman José Huizar, who represents Eagle Rock, said that even though Los Angeles is not allowed to dump trash at Scholl Canyon, Eagle Rock residents have had to deal with problems created by the landfill, such as heavy truck traffic, increased air pollution and roads damaged by the trucks on their way to the facility, located in the mountains just beyond the farthest northern point of Figueroa Street.


“Eagle Rock has gotten a very raw deal with this landfill,” Huizar said at the rally. “Our streets on Figueroa and Colorado [Boulevard] are constantly being damaged by the sheer weight and volume of the trucks heading to the landfill.”


Pasadena also has not yet received responses to its comments on the DEIR. Vince Bertoni, Pasadena’s planning director who submitted comments on behalf of the city, wrote that Pasadena is concerned with the project’s impact on air quality, noise and aesthetics, including views from residential areas along Glen Oaks Boulevard and from the city’s Annandale Open Space area. He told the Pasadena Weekly that the city is waiting to hear back from Glendale to see if their concerns have been resolved. 


Pasadena joins the cities of La Cañada Flintridge, South Pasadena, San Marino and Sierra Madre in paying more than $7.5 million a year to dump their trash at Scholl Canyon. Pasadena pays $2.5 million of that — or $200,000 a month.


“If the expansion goes through, the city of Pasadena will benefit by not having to truck their municipal solid waste (MSW) to other landfills that are located much farther from Pasadena,” said Lorenz. “There are no plans to change Pasadena’s contract or agreement to dispose of MSW at Scholl at this time. Of course, if the city of Glendale’s costs go up due to some sort of alternative technology, then it is likely that all users of the landfill — including Glendale — will experience a proportionate increase in the cost of disposal.”

Remaining Vigilant


Lopez said that Eagle Rock residents and a growing number of Glendale residents want the landfill to continue on its existing timeline for closure. As of press time, 372 people had signed a petition to oppose the proposed landfill expansion.


“We insist that the city be accurate about the amount of waste that’s being dumped there, and the rate at which it’s being dumped there, because to suggest that there’s an urgency around the demands for the landfill space, the data as we know it does not pan out,” Lopez said.


Lopez was referring to an opinion piece appearing on Sept. 16 in the Glendale News-Press by Richard Corral, a Glendale resident who wrote that the DEIR is “deeply flawed in stating that the dump will reach capacity by 2021. That time frame is inaccurate, based on an out-of-date 2007 estimate of 1,400 tons of trash per day unloaded at the site. This estimate predates the Great Recession, when dumping slowed, as well as the onset of zero-waste goals. Even Glendale city officials who defend the landfill expansion admit that actual dumping at the site has tapered off, averaging only 700 tons per day, or half the report’s estimate. At this reduced rate, the dump could last nearly to 2030 at its present size.”


According to a May 20 report in the News-Press, Steve Zurn, former public works director and now head of Glendale’s Water & Power Department, told a crowd at a public meeting on the DEIR that the current rate is 700 tons per day, meaning the landfill would reach capacity by 2032.


Glendale officials insist that the city has “no immediate plans to proceed with any expansion and possibly may not for quite some time, if ever, depending on the success of the city’s aggressive waste management alternatives,” according to a statement on the city’s website.


“We certainly hope that’s the case, that there are no immediate plans for expansion,” said Lopez. “However, we will remain vigilant over their plans. When you spend hundreds of thousands of dollars or whatever amount they spent on reviewing and studying proposals, including substantive expansion of the landfill, it makes you wonder.”


Lorenz said the city is aggressively pursuing other options to match a statewide goal of reducing, recycling or composting no less than 75 percent of solid waste generated by 2020.


“The city has adopted a Zero Waste Policy, has ongoing diversion efforts, is working toward an exclusive franchise process for private haulers and actively pursues alternatives for disposal,” said Lorenz. Zero waste is an ideal, sustainable and natural cycle in which all discarded materials are designed to become recyclable resources for others to use, with no trash being sent to landfills and incinerators.


“The city is evaluating increasing its recycling program, primarily for businesses and multifamily housing units. Also, the city is actively pursuing anaerobic digestion as a further means to reduce the amount of solid waste deposited in the landfill.”


Anaerobic digestion is a process in which microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen, speeding up decomposition.

Diminishing Role


Like Toyon Canyon in Griffith Park, the city of Glendale also captures methane gas from the Scholl Canyon Landfill and uses it in the steam boilers at the city’s Grayson Power Plant, fueling its turbines to make electricity.


Lorenz insisted that making money is not the purpose of the proposed expansion.


“Although the maximum daily tonnage allowable under the current permit is 3,400 tons per day (TPD), it has been many years since waste deposits at Scholl Canyon Landfill have been anywhere near that figure,” said Lorenz. “Even prior to the Great Recession, the average TPD was around 1,400. Since the recession, Scholl has been processing less than 1,000 TPD. The city’s good faith is demonstrated on this front in two ways: 1) The EIR uses the 1,400 TPD as its baseline, not the permitted 3,400 tons; and 2) even during the darkest days of the recession, the Glendale City Council refused to open the waste shed for more trash and thus increase revenue from the landfill. In general, Glendale’s motivation in processing the EIR is not to maximize revenue; if it were, Glendale could have increased the tonnage being processed at the landfill.”


Realistically, Lorenz said, “at least for the foreseeable future, landfills will play a role in [this] system, albeit a diminishing role as Glendale progresses toward the goal of zero waste.”