Amid mounting frustration over what they feel has become a neighborhood hazard and a lack of concern over their quality of life, a group of McConnell Avenue homeowners has enlisted the support of Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl in filing an “order to comply” against the highly regarded waste management facility of Loyola Marymount University (LMU).
On Tuesday, August 14th, Rosendahl asked the Department of Building and Safety to issue a cease and desist order to the university.
“The city’s position is that LMU is not in compliance with the city ordinance that governs waste management and recycling facilities,” Rosendahl stated. “We have looked at maps and documents that pertain to the waste management operation, and they are all outdated.”
The councilman said that the size, scope and intensity of the center had grown tremendously since 1990, the first year that it began operating.
Representatives from the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office and the Planning Department were consulted during a meeting that the councilman held the day that the order was issued.
LMU will be cited, said the councilman, and they will have the right to appeal the order.
University officials maintain that the waste management operation, which has been recognized by the state for its recycling efforts, has not violated any laws and has negotiated in good faith with its neighbors to resolve what has become one of the most talked about subjects in Westchester in recent months.
“There is a huge disagreement between the two parties regarding compliance with the ordinance,” Kathleen Flanagan, vice president of communications and government relations at LMU, contends. “We continue to believe that we have not broken any laws.”
“I am so pleased that the city has decided that (LMU) is in violation of the building codes,” said a relieved Linda Kokelaar, a McConnell Avenue homeowner who has been at the forefront of the effort to draw attention to what she and and her neighbors consider a nuisance. “I hope that the university will now relocate the facility away from our homes and according to the building codes.”
Rosendahl and Father Joseph Lawton, the president of the university, met on Friday, August 10th, in an effort to reach an amiable solution to the conflict. But because LMU would not agree to move the portion of the waste management facility at least 150 feet away from the McConnell Avenue homeowners’ residences, the councilman felt he had to act in the best interests of his constituents.
“I’m very disappointed with the university’s response,” Rosendahl said. “This is an important issue for the neighborhood.
“It’s not a recycling issue; it’s a quality of life issue.”
During the year-long negotiations between LMU representatives and members the McConnell Quality of Life, as the pro- testing homeowners are known, the neighborhood group has insisted that the facility does not comply with city inspection, safety and building codes, and has asked the university to relocate the operation or move it away from their property line. They say the smells, noise and ancillary annoyances, such as rodents and insects, have had serious impacts on their lives.
LMU representatives have offered two separate mitigation alternatives, one in April and one again at the end of July.
The most recent offer would have enclosed the portion of the recycling center closest to McConnell Avenue in a multi-story building, moved the sorting of cardboard and plastic offsite and added a landscape buffer near the residential boundary.
“Both of our offers were rejected,” said Flanagan. “In fact, the homeowners came back with more demands.
“It’s really disappointing that they decided not to accept our offer.”
The second mitigation measure would have cost the university $3 million.
“That’s $3 million that we could have used for scholarships or financial aid for students,” Flanagan said.
Rosendahl countered, “That offer would not have alleviated the problem. Sure, they would have spent $3 million, but it would not have been $3 million well spent.”
After the meeting with Rosendahl, the university decided that it would no longer meet with the McConnell group.
“We believe the offer was a very generous one, and we are no longer negotiating with [the McConnell property owners],” Flanagan stated.
The residents of McConnell have received a great deal of community support for their cause recently. On August 7th, the Neighborhood Council of Westchester/Playa del Rey passed a motion recommending that the university “work with the McConnell group to resolve impacts of the LMU recycling center.”
“It’s obvious that it’s a health hazard and a neighborhood nuisance,” said Douglas Ehlers, who chairs the Westchester/Playa del Rey council’s public safety committee. “It’s like your next door neighbor putting a recycling plant on your street.”
June Durr, whose house abuts the recycling center, feels strongly that LMU’s July offer would not have mitigated the ongoing noise and refuse that she and others have dealt with since the facility expanded in 2001.
“[LMU’s offer] was unacceptable,” said Durr, who has lived on McConnell for more that 25 years.
Like Kokelaar, she believes that the interpretation of the ordinance was their best hope in building a strong case against the recycling center.
“We just want to see the laws that pertain to the recycling and waste management facility interpreted in the proper way,” she said.
Kokelaar is grateful that Rosendahl’s office has taken a strong interest in the neighborhood dispute.
“[Rosendahl] has been very helpful lately,” she said. “And Isaac Liberman [the councilman’s Westchester field deputy] has been great.”
For Kokelaar, an educational therapist, this was her first foray into community activism.
“I teach a lot of history, so when I get discouraged [over the disagreement about the recycling center], I think about history and all that has happened to people and countries who didn’t stand up for themselves,” she explained. “And I don’t want anyone or anything to take over and ruin this wonderful neighborhood where we live. Why can’t we just live in peace?”
The next move will be up to LMU.
“What happens next remains to be seen,” said Rosendahl. “My hope is when they see the citation, they will appreciate the seriousness of this issue.
“I’m hoping that all of us — my office, LMU, the community and the homeowners will be able to work out a reasonable solution that benefits everyone.
“I believe that reasonable people can come to peaceful solutions.”