First published in the Sept. 17 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.
The City Council firmly agreed this week to close the Scholl Canyon landfill as soon as can be done, in effect aiming for it to be filled to capacity ahead of schedule.
To that end, the council has asked city officials to explore opening up tipping rights to additional municipalities and communities and also the potential impacts of raising the fees charged for that. All five council members voted in unison on these measures Tuesday.
As it stands, officials estimate the landfill, which Glendale owns, to reach its fill capacity by around December 2025 if the current daily dump rate of around 1,400 tons continues.
“I’m in favor of the earliest possible closure,” Councilman Dan Brotman said at Tuesday’s meeting. “I like the suggestion that perhaps we can open up the waste shed to all-comers and increase those tipping fees and let the market just drive an even more rapid fill of the remaining capacity so maybe we can get it done earlier than 2025.”
The final fill volume for the landfill, which was opened around 60 years ago, is approximately 33.4 million tons. As of June 30, there had been around 32 million tons deposited into the landfill throughout the course of its life. Regulations and operational agreements require the landfill reach this volume and achieve an average elevation of 1,500 feet above sea level, with a maximum of 1,525 feet, to support a final cover on top of the pit with enough of an angle to prevent pooling stormwater.
In addition to Glendale, a host of other cities and unincorporated communities in the area tip their solid waste into Scholl Canyon, bringing in around $12 million in fees each year to the city. The council was also presented options to adjust the landfill’s waste shed — who was allowed to use it, essentially — in order to prolong its life, at the expense of those tipping fees. The city did this in 1987, when it cut back on tipping customers to stave off a peak of 6,200 tons of garbage a day going into the landfill.
The city in 2019 elected not to physically expand the landfill, and there was little appetite on Tuesday for once again prolonging Scholl’s lifespan.
“I think we owe it to the community members not just at Scholl Canyon but our surrounding cities for us to walk away tonight with a definite date for closure,” Councilwoman Elen Asatryan said.
Glendale residents who attended or phoned in public comments — most of whom said they lived in the adjacent Glenoaks Canyon neighborhood — universally opposed extending the landfill’s life, with some even calling for a premature closure. (Closing the landfill before it reaches its fill volume would require the city to import soil to fill the remaining area, which could cost upward of $50 million and create additional structural issues, officials explained Tuesday.)
Once the landfill closes and is capped off, the city plans to install new recreational space on at least part of the land, which would accompany the Scholl Canyon Golf Course. Options proposed Tuesday included tennis courts, soccer fields, a BMX course or zip lines. Some council members also suggested making part of the land a solar energy farm.
“Getting that landfill closed sooner rather than later just has a lot of benefits,” Brotman said. “The sooner we do that, the sooner we can get these good things that we all want.”
While virtually all are in favor of the recreational space, officials and residents are more divided on the biogas power plant that the council narrowly approved a permit for last year. Those affirmative council members, along with Glendale Water and Power officials, hope to use methane — which is already flared off, according to regulations — from the landfill to bring up to 12 megawatts of power to the city for around 20 years. Nearby residents largely oppose the project, claiming it will increase the wildfire hazard in the canyon, be vulnerable to earthquakes and open the land up for more industrial development.
The council on Tuesday will vote on a resolution to proceed with that project. When the permit was approved last year, then-Councilman Vrej Agajanian joined Ara Najarian and Paula Devine to pass it. Asatryan, who was elected in place of Agajanian this year, may hold the key vote Tuesday if her peers’ voting lines remain the same.
With the firm commitment to close the landfill, City Manager Roubik Golanian was tasked with exploring the pros and cons of inviting more vendors to dump their trash here and raising tipping fees from their current $60 per ton, a low price for the industry. Other questions moving forward will be where to send trash once the local option ends, which is likely to raise trash fees for residents and add more trash collection vehicles to the road, and whether to construct a waste transfer station to accommodate prior landfill customers.
Some see this fork in the road as an additional opportunity to think about how Glendale consumes material products and produces waste.
“I do agree that the sooner we do this, the better,” Mayor Ardy Kassakhian said. “This as much about the closure of the landfill as it is for all of us to look in the mirror and find ways for us to reduce our waste and how much trash we produce.”