Developing on Closed Landfills

ceqaBoth the City’s of Carson and Inglewood are vying to lay claim to being the city that returned football to Los Angeles.  In the landmark environmental case Tuolumne Jobs & Small Bus. Alliance v. Superior Court Wal-mart sought to expand their store in the City of Sonora and the council adopted the ordinance without conducting an environmental review.  The California Supreme Court, who was split on marriage equality, voted unanimously, to overturn the lower courts ruling, and allow the expansion to take place without it.  This is the first article, in a series, that will look at the basic environmental impacts of both projects.  First up, the city that is proposing to build a stadium on top of a decommissioned landfill. 

2 Urban Girls started this process by seeking out experts whose primary job is monitoring the landfills while open and most importantly, after they are decommissioned (closed).  Those experts are the engineers at the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County.  2 Urban Girls spoke with Public Information Officer (PIO) Steve Highter, P.E., BCEE.  The landfill in question is not formerly owned and/or operated by LA County but Mr. Highter will speak to how landfills are treated under LA County control.

lapuente2UG:  Please identify and differentiate the two types of landfills under the control of the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County?

SH:  The Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County own or operate active (currently receiving refuse) and closed (no longer received refuse) landfills.

2UG:  What are the steps taken, by the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County, to decommission a landfill, your org owns and operates?

SH:  Regulations require that landfills have various environmental systems to protect the health of nearby residents.  This typically starts with placing a thick soil covering over the refuse and installing of a system of wells and pipes to collect methane gas that is produced as the refuse decays.  The cover is graded so that it drains properly and is vegetated to prevent erosion and so that it blends into its surroundings.

2UG:  How does CEQA tie in to this process?

SH:  CEQA requires that potential environmental impact from a proposed discretionary project be disclosed to the public.  A landfill operation is a discretionary project.  Therefore, the rules of CEQA apply.

2UG:  Have any of the landfills, under the control of the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County, ever been developed for either commercial and/or residential use?

SH:  None of the refuse filled areas have been developed for either commercial or residential use.  As it decays, the volume of refuse decreases, which causes significant amounts of settlement making the filled areas unsuitable for this type of development.  Generally the landfills are dedicated as open space and recreational use.

2UG:  In the case of Tuolumne Jobs & Small Business Alliance vs. the Superior Court of Tuolumne County, the CA Supreme Court reversed a judgment which held that a city may not adopt a voter-sponsored initiative, with environmental impacts, unless it conducts a CEQA analysis.  This was overturned in August 2014.

SH:  This question is beyond my scope of education and experience.

2UG:  What are the potential long-term environmental effects of this ruling?  If any exist?

SH:  This question is beyond my scope of education and experience.

2UG:  Does CEQA monitor remediation efforts that have either been identified in a developer’s proposal and/or voter-sponsored initiative?  If the latter is the case, is that monitoring done by the city instead?

SH:  CEQA does not require the monitoring of remediation efforts unless the mediation was specifically identified as a mitigation measure in an Environmental Impact Report or Mitigated Negative Declaration.  Any monitoring is typically this is the responsibility of the lead and responsible agencies.

From an excerpt in the Press Telegram re: how is Carson paying for the cleanup:

The city [of carson] has promised to invest $81 million in the project’s environmental remediation. Most of those funds come from property tax increments paid to the city’s former Redevelopment Agency. About $40 million more will be returned to the developer in taxes once the project starts generating revenue.

To make the project habitable, developers are installing a state-of-the-art complex web of pipes to remove hazardous methane gas from the pits. They will seal the pits of rotting trash 30 to 60 feet deep with thick plastic.(via Press Telegram).

The now closed La Puente Landfill is a Gas-to-Energy Facility, where the methane is captured, through tubing and is turned into energy.  Where will the methane go being collected out of Carson’s project?  The site plans for the stadium include a 120ft lighting/flame tower that will spit out methane in the already identifed “cancer cluster” hovering Carson, CA.

Related article:  Health: Board of Supervisors orders county officials to investigate possible clusters in Sun Valley and Carson. Both sites are near landfills.

The City of Carson has a troubled history with developers saying one thing and doing another.  Ask the residents in the Carousel tract.

Related article:  Developer faulted in contamination of Carson’s Carousel tract

If a council member can be paid for their affirmative vote to allow the developer to avoid oversight of the projects cleanup, especially when cleanup is necessary, how can residents ensure the developers will do what their tax dollars are paying them to do?

**update 5/3/2015**

The Daily Breeze is reporting that the Carson city council is mulling over the idea of a $50 million dollar bond to finish the cleanup of the land.

The original agreement obligates the city to spend $120 million on the cleanup which included $80 million in redevelopment funds and $50 million in bonds.

To say the council is mulling isn’t true, they are required to issue the bonds.


One Response so far.

  1. […] CEQA series has generated quite a buzz.  The article re: Developing on closed landfills examined the process for closing a landfill and corresponding remediation efforts to perform […]

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