This once massive landfill in Puente Hills just got closer to becoming a park

This post first appeared on San Gabriel Valley Tribune - El Monte on . You can read the original article here.

The creation of the first new regional park in Los Angeles County in 35 years took a step closer to becoming a reality Tuesday, after receiving a funding boost from the Board of Supervisors.

What will be the Puente Hills Regional Park on the site of what was once the largest landfill in the nation received an extra $28.3 million from the sale of a 9.1-acre slice of the county’s Diamond Bar Golf Course. The land will be used to widen the 57/60 freeway interchange.

The county received compensation from the sale of the golf course land that abuts the freeway from the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments and LA Metro. The money will be placed into the county’s Park Compensation Fund, earmarked for building the new park.

The massive Puente Hills Landfill, near the junction of the 605 and 60 freeways, operated from 1957 until it closed its gates on Oct. 31, 2013. It had received 130 million tons of trash that is still decomposing under a layer of soil and shrubs. In the 1980 and 1990s, efforts to close the landfill ramped up as neighborhoods in La Puente, Avocado Heights and Hacienda Heights complained about odors and pollution from the dump.

“We are on our way to transforming an environmental injustice into an asset,” said Supervisor Hilda Solis on Tuesday, before the 5-0 vote to receive the money. The landfill was once in Supervisor Janice Hahn’s Fourth District but now is in Solis’ First District. The two looked back on what once was, and ahead to what will be a dramatic change in the Puente-Chino Hills of the southeastern San Gabriel Valley, near Whittier.

“It was America’s largest landfill,” Hahn said. “To think, now it will be turned into a park the public will benefit from for generations to come.”

The county’s Department of Parks and Recreation will combine the money with $80 million from a settlement of a lawsuit with the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts in September. The 24 independent special districts serving about 5.6 million people across the county operated the landfill from 1970 to 2013. The county sued, saying the Sanitation Districts was reneging on its promise to turn the landfill into a park.

By scraping together funding, the county will have enough to build Phase 1 at a cost of $120 million, for what will eventually become a 142-acre mostly passive, regional park, Solis said. The total cost of the park was estimated at $283 million in 2020.

Solis said the park will be mostly open space, with hiking and walking trails, a visitor’s center, a bike skills park, picnic areas and restrooms. A previous design included Disney-esque gondolas talking passengers to the top of the 40-foot high landfill site.

“Before they wanted to put in gondolas,” she said. “This will be more of a passive park.”

Solis, who grew up in the shadow of the massive landfill, remembers trash trucks clogging roadways and the smell of garbage wafting into her neighborhood.

The park master plan was approved by the Board of Supervisors in 2016. In 1987, Solis authored a bill requiring a portion of the massive landfill be turned into a county park when operations ceased. But funding issues, the lawsuit, and then COVID-19 stalled progress.

“This project has been dragging on for decades,” said La Puente Mayor Charlie Klinakis. “And our community suffered through the impacts of the landfill for too long.”

ActiveSGV, a group promoting biking, walking and safe streets, had promoted the idea with a bike ride to the site back in 2016. Since then, nothing has happened.

“The positive changes we’d like to see never happen fast enough,” said Wesley Reutimann, the group’s special programs director, who said ground was supposed to be broken in 2019.

He said plans for a bike skills area is unique.

“There are very few of those spaces available,” he said, saying he knew of only one in Santa Clarita.

Soccer fields and other developments are not possible because the land is still settling and irrigation could leach water into the ground, creating toxic runoff. Right before the closure, landfill operators said some of the inner roads leading to the dumping site fell 100 feet.

Michael Hughes, a member of the Hacienda Heights Improvement Association, said he will be happy when construction begins. “As long as we are getting a passive park up there and not some insanity, then this is all good.”