A group of Granada Hills neighbors has filed a lawsuit against Sunshine Canyon Landfill, accusing the operator of allowing noxious trash odors to stink up the community.
Landfill neighbors say an unbearable stench of decomposing trash and gas fumes is coming from the trash site, which takes in more than 9,000 tons of garbage a day.
Residents are forced to keep their windows shut and forgo use of their lawns, according to the complaint, which was filed last week. They say they're unable to entertain because of embarrassment over the odor, and the smell has caused their home values to plummet.
The lawsuit, which seeks damages, states the community is being exposed "to pollutants, horrific odors, and air contaminants."
The legal action comes after residents had already filed thousands of complaints with the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
In response, the AQMD has issued more than 50 notices of violation against the trash operator, a number cited as higher than normal by agency officials.
Despite the violations, the plaintiffs say the smell hasn't gone away. The lawsuit is an attempt to force the landfill operator to fix the problem, they say.
"The governmental agencies are failing us," said Yeshayahu Michaely, who bought his home on Canyon Ridge Lane in 2009 and is one of the plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit. "All we want is relief.
Peg Mulloy, a spokeswoman for Phoenix-based Republic Services, which operates the dump, said the company doesn't comment on litigation.
City prosecutors are also upping their investigation of the landfill, which straddles city and county jurisdictions. Two landfills merged in 2009 to create the megadump.
Since then, the smell has become markedly worse, say neighbors, who've brought their complaints to the City Attorney's Office and City Councilman Mitch Englander, who represents the area.
Andrea Provenzale, who also lives on Golden Valley Lane, said the smell comes in waves, staying for a day, then disappearing, and returning a few days later. The odor hovers in her bedroom, in her closets and her garage.
"Sometimes it's a rotting trash smell, like if you stuck your head in a garbage can after trash day," Provenzale said. "Other times, it's like a ... gas smell."
Republic officials acknowledged the odor problems at the site in interviews with the Daily News in 2011.
And AQMD agrees there are issues. The agency issued 55 notices of violations to Republic during 2011 and 2012, compared to six violations in 2010.
In response to the violations, Republic agreed to pay a $450,000 fine to AQMD in July. The money goes to run AQMD operations.
Additionally, Republic is under orders to update its gas collection system by the end of 2013.
AQMD spokesman Sam Atwood said the agency believes the "stiff fine," an order of abatement issued last year, and update mandates are helping the situation.
Republic is making progress in addressing the main cause of the odor - landfill gas - by increasing the volume of the gas captured by its trash system, Atwood said. That mandate was sought by AQMD.
The growing number of complaints by neighbors could be a sign the community is more organized, not that the problem is getting worse, he added.
"We think things are improving," Atwood said. "This is a long-term problem; this isn't something that is going to be solved overnight."
City Attorney Carmen Trutanich's office, which recently assigned a criminal prosecutor to study the Sunshine Canyon Landfill issue, takes a different tack.
"This is one of the most significant environmental problems in Los Angeles," said Deputy City Attorney William Carter, who says their independent research shows there are "significant odor problems."
Carter, whose office isn't involved in the lawsuit, has advised the AQMD that the agency could refer the case to the City Attorney's Office for criminal prosecution.
"I have let my feelings be known (to AQMD) that we have experience prosecuting environmental crimes," Carter said.
Asked about Carter's comments, Atwood stated there is nothing that precludes the city from prosecuting on civil violations.
"We have not referred any potential criminal violations because we're not aware of any criminal conduct on the part of landfill operators," Atwood said.
In a statement, Englander said efforts by the AQMD and other agencies to cut odors "have proved fruitless."
"I applaud the action of these residents to take back their community by using the judicial system to regain their quality of life," Englander said.