The Legacy of One of California´s Most Infamous Landfills

  • Posted on 30 January 2019
  • By Brian Jobst

The massive BKK Corporation Landfill in West Covina closed 23 years ago; it’s history pockmarked with chemical spills on streets leading to the dump, methane and vinyl chloride leaks, evacuations of residents, and prolonged litigation.  There’s no getting rid of the landfill.  It’s contents – 20 million tons of decomposing trash and 3.4 million tons of toxic hazardous waste – will remain there for decades to come. 

Though the BKK Landfill is up to 595 feet deep and towers over Azusa Avenue (the busiest street in West Covina) most that drive by it have forgotten how it earned its infamous reputation and what’s buried there.   Today the nearly 600 acres of open space and stunning views have attracted the eye of a hotel developer, seemingly unaware of real risks associated with the site and that parts of it nature has already reclaimed.

Deer at the BKK Landfill

Photo courtesy of Mike Hurley

The residents of West Covina have taken matters into their own hands.  Since November of 2018 West Covina residents, members of Livable West Covina, and the West Covina Improvement Association have conducted presentations throughout the city.  The presentation, developed by a resident provides a thorough understanding of what’s buried at BKK, spots where wildlife and habitat are thriving, how the regulatory agencies are ensuring community safety, and what all of it means as the local city council considers BKK’s future. 

The BKK Landfill presentations are open to the public.   The next one is scheduled for Thursday February 7, 2019 from 2:30pm to 4:00pm at the Bainbridge Club (1006 W. Bainbridge Ave, West Covina, 91790)

As a result of the presentations, residents came powerfully equipped to BKK Community Workshops, which the city recently held.  The outcome was the city and the potential developer hitting the reset button announcing previous plans for BKK were scrapped and “all options are now on the table.”

While the city of West Covina endures serious financial challenges, its residents have learned history’s lesson: “We ended up with this massive landfill 50 years ago because our city’s number one priority was money.  We won’t allow that mistake to be repeated.  Our priorities are protecting public health, increasing quality of life, and some revenue for the city, but’s that’s a very distant third priority”, says long time resident and West Covina Improvement Association Vice President, Angie Gillingham.

Consistent with those priorities the residents have proposed the elevated, capped and flat landfill deck at BKK would be used for solar power generation with zero ground penetration.  The 122 acres of city owned land, which abuts BKK would be sold to a conservation interest and become a park with trails and areas of protected habitat and restored habitat.   Much of this habitat already connects to other open space and habitat stretching east from BKK through the city of Walnut, Mt. San Antonio College, and Cal Poly Pomona to Bonnelli Regional Park.   

In August 2018 the presence of California Gnat Catcher, a federally listed endangered species was repeatedly confirmed on the 122 acres.  In January 2019 the California Burrowing Owl, a California species of special concern was also confirmed.  A full biological assessment of the site is slated for this coming spring.

Burrowing Owl

Photo courtesy of the Sierra Club

 The nature-park and solar approach is the most fitting final chapter for BKK.  BKK Corporation started the landfill with uninformed greed, became a city’s ATM and curse, but may end with a fine park for people and nature to share.  For more information about BKK visit www.LivableWestCovina.org  Its co-founder is a member of the Sierra Club’s San Gabriel Valley Task Force and additional BKK presentation dates are regularly added to the website.

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