How does a mega battle begin to preserve the Angeles National Forest and a beautiful pristine canyon in Elsmere Canyon begin? I am going to brag about something that has taken almost 20 years to accomplish, but is now a reality.
Elsmere Canyon lies within the Angeles National Forest, adjacent to Whitney Canyon, at the intersection of Sierra Highway and San Fernando Road. In 1989, there was a proposal to build the world's largest landfill in Elsmere Canyon. The landfill would have operated 24 hours a day and risen above the ridgeline to a height of 1½ times the height of the Washington Monument. As proposed, it would have been seen from all over the valley. Approximately 2,400 round trips of garbage trucks would have been added to our freeways every day.
When I first heard about the plans for the world's largest garbage dump, I was told it was a "done deal," and that it was going to happen — nothing could be done to stop it. At a preliminary scoping meeting held at the Ranch House Inn in 1989, a few of us listened as we were told Elsmere Canyon had no water, no wildlife and the dump would have no effect on the citizens of Santa Clarita. Common sense told me otherwise. A tour into Elsmere Canyon showed me this beautiful canyon should never become a dump.
In the beginning it was difficult convincing the movers and shakers in our valley to take on the battle. So I, along with Dinah Sargeant and Doris Schiller, sat around my dining room table and looked into forming a nonprofit organization to preserve the canyons surrounding the Santa Clarita Valley. At that time, Towsley Canyon was also targeted for a landfill. Whitney Canyon was targeted for an off-road vehicle park. The usual way to form a nonprofit is to hire an attorney. We didn't have the money so we did the work ourselves. A few months later, the SCV Canyons Preservation Committee was born.
U.S. Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, receives a ceremonial key to the city from Mayor Pro-tem Clyde Smyth in December 1996
following the passage of legislation by McKeon and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., that blocked the siting of a landfill in Elsmere Canyon. (Boxer received
one, too, from then-Mayor Carl Boyer III.) Smyth, who been the Hart District school superintentent, was McKeon's advisor on military academy nominations.
McKeon had been a member of the Hart School Board during Smyth's superintendency. Photo: City of Santa Clarita. Click to enlarge.
In order to win the battle, it was imperative to provide viable facts. Thus began the educational process to disprove statements that there was a garbage crisis and if the dump in Elsmere Canyon were not built, there would be garbage in the streets by 1991.
I personally called each operating landfill in Los Angeles County and discovered that the dumps were permitted for many more tons than they were taking in, the amount of garbage being collected was far less than stated, and there was, in fact, no garbage crisis. There was adequate landfill space available without building the world's largest dump in the Angeles National Forest in Elsmere Canyon.
Waste-by-rail was a viable option, but the proponents of the dump were saying it would be far too expensive. Once again, I personally called each proposed waste-by-rail project and discovered that the costs would be far less than what was being represented. Today, the L.A. County sanitation districts have purchased one remote site and will be purchasing a second. Transfer stations are being built to accommodate a waste-by-rail program. The Los Angeles County Waste Management Task Force has embraced the fact that conversion technology is not only feasible but also a necessity in order to deal with our waste.
Some wonderful people I worked with who were intrinsically involved in the process to defeat the dump are Dinah Sargeant, Doris Schiller, Karen Pearson, Dean and Keefe Ferrandini, Darla Hoback, Jill Klajic and many others who worked thousands of hours to win the battle. The fight could not have been won if not for the city of Santa Clarita.
There were several trips to Washington, D.C., and Sacramento. When the fight first began, I knew that educating our community and legislators was essential to having people show up at the public hearings.
On May 31, 1995, the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission held a public hearing at Valencia High School. History was made when more than 5,000 people attended the hearing to oppose the dump. In 1996 legislation was passed, sponsored by Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon and Sen. Barbara Boxer, which states that no landfill can be built in the Angeles National Forest.
In a letter dated May 5, 2004, BFI (Waste Services) withdrew its application for a conditional use permit and oak tree permit for the proposed Elsmere Solid Waste Management Facility.
On Wednesday, March 7, 2007, the donation of 400 acres of Elsmere Canyon to the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (for use as an open space preserve) received its final approval. Elsmere Canyon is a natural, riparian area that contains vital links between the Angeles National Forest, Placerita Canyon Nature Center and Whitney Canyon for the wildlife corridor, connecting the San Gabriel, Santa Susana and Santa Monica mountains. This beautiful canyon contains waterfalls, rolling hills, riparian habitats, coastal sage and oak woodlands, and significant ecological, cultural and historical treasures. There is another approximately 800 acres that still needs protection.
Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich has been in the forefront of exploring alternate technologies for the disposal of trash and has been instrumental in helping to put the final nail in the coffin of an inappropriate garbage dump in an inappropriate location.
As part of the original citizens group that led the charge to prevent the mega-dump, I can't tell you how very gratified I am about this news.
The next step is to initiate state legislation to have Elsmere Canyon reinstated as part of the Rim of the Valley Trail Corridor. The City Council and I will continue to work diligently to see that this happens, with the cooperation of our city, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and our state legislators.
(Update: In October 2010, the city of Santa Clarita purchased the remaining 842 acres in Elsmere Canyon for preservation as permanent open space.)