New in Covina: Killer bees

German Shepherd mixes, Wolf and Luna, were stung by bees Sunday in Covina. Luna died from her injuries and Wolf is receiving treatment. (Courtesy Photo) 

Heather Umphenour and her family returned home Sunday night to find their two German Shepherd-mixed rescue dogs in the backyard covered with bee stings and surrounded by hundreds of dead bees. One dog, Luna, died from her injuries, while her brother, Wolf, is still receiving veterinary care.

Umphenour fears the next attack might happen to a person.

“My children are crying themselves to sleep and for this to happen to somebody’s child, it would be horrible,” Umphenour said. “I want people to be informed that they’re in the area and that you have to look out.”

Most wild honeybees in the San Gabriel Valley, hybrids of European and African strains, are commonly known as “killer bees,” according to the San Gabriel Valley Mosquito and Vector Control District. Killer bees aggressively protect their hive and swarm threats en masse.

Umphenour, who has four children, said she’s never seen a hive at their home near Gladstone High School in approximately seven years of living there. Umphenour and her husband rescued Wolf and Luna when they were 8-week old puppies roughly a year ago. The brother and sister often wrestled and rough housed in the fenced-in back yard.

The family spent most of the day Saturday clearing out the backyard and trimming the family’s lemon trees, but did not see any bees or signs of bees, Umphenour said. It’s unclear where the swarm originated from.

Umphenour said she’s already warned officials at the nearby school and informed the city’s public works department.

“The whole situation is just mind blowingly shocking,” she said. “I just hope it doesn’t happen to anyone else.”

Wolf, who remains at the Inland Valley Emergency Pet Clinic, was stung primarily on his face. His swollen eyes blocked his sight until Tuesday, according to the pet clinic’s Medical Director Jeff Patlogar.

“We kind of take it day by day. He’s a little bit more responsive today,” Patlogar said Tuesday afternoon. “The swelling is a bit better than it was yesterday, but he’s not out of the woods yet.”

A few bee stings are common each year, typically during the summer. Hundreds, if not thousands of stings, are rare, Patlogar said.

The severe reaction from the bee stings causes swelling, vomiting, weakness and seizures. Several hundred stingers have already been removed from Wolf’s tongue and many more are still coming out. The stings inside the mouth come from the dog biting at the bees, Patlogar said.

He’s expected to stay at least several more days.

A family friend set up a GoFundMe page at to help cover the veterinary costs, which are expected run about $6,000.

“We’re trying to keep our dog alive, that’s where all of the money is going,” Umphenour said.


Jason HenryReach the author at or follow Jason on Twitter:@JasonMHenry.

Showdown in San Jose Hills: Mt. SAC vs. Walnut

In an unusual move, the City Council will reconvene its official meeting tonight (Wednesday, Nov. 12, 5 p.m. at Walnut City Hall, then 6-6:30  p.m. at Mt. SAC’s Founder’s Hall ) from Walnut City Hall to Mt. SAC’s Founder’s Hall across town. And the Council will do so during the Mt. SAC trustees board meeting.

After officially notifying the public of the venue change both in writing and orally, the city clerk will gather the City Council inside the lobby and call the roll around 6 p.m., officially reopening the city council meeting so that the five elected officials can march into the trustees’ board room.

The council wants to explain to the full board why the college should suspend plans for a five-story garage next to homes in the Timberline neighborhood.

“It is like a showdown between the city of Walnut and Mt. SAC,” said Layla Abou-Taleb, a Timberline resident and part of a group fighting the 2,200-space garage for fear it will bring more traffic, noise and air pollution to their neighborhood and the city in general.

The Walnut City Council is not on the Mt. SAC board agenda and therefore, not officially recognized, according to documents. Instead, like ordinary Walnut residents, each member must express his or her concerns about the parking garage during the Oral Communications portion of the meeting, explained City Manager Rob Wishner.

The holding of a city council meeting inside Mt. SAC is extremely unusual, Wishner said. “It is probably a first,” he said, adding he’d never seen such an action during his time as city manager.

The unusual arrangement came about because Mt. SAC has refused the City Council’s request to hold a joint Walnut-Mt. SAC board meeting on the parking garage. “We’ve requested a joint meeting with the Board of Trustees but to no avail,” Wishner said.

Instead, Mayor Nancy Tragarz and Councilman Bob Pacheco did have one meeting with Mt. SAC trustees Judy Chen Haggerty and Fred Chyr. The meeting included Wishner and Mt. SAC President Bill Scroggins. But the City Council wanted to meet with the trustees as a whole, according to a letter sent by the city to the college in late August, when the City Council passed a resolution opposing the structure.

“This is sort of a slap in the face of Mt. SAC,” said Abou-Taleb. “They’re saying if you won’t come and sit with us, we’ll come anyway.”

Mt. SAC board members have repeatedly declined to answer questions about Walnut’s opposition.

Opposition to the $45 million parking garage began publicly in April when Timberline residents protested the structure, which is to be built on the northwest edge of the 420-acre campus along Mountaineer Way. Mt. SAC officials said they agreed to build part of the garage underground to preserve views of nearby homes.

Later, residents and the City Council demanded the college build the structure on a part of the campus not adjacent to homes, such as the south side near the athletic fields. But Scroggins said the college wants to locate the garage near the new classroom buildings, bookstore and cafeteria, so students would use it.

The city is questioning the authority of the college to act without its approval, even though community colleges answer to the state, not local authorities. Wishner said the city has learned the college has not adopted an exemption to local zoning rules as required.

Residents and the city are also questioning whether the college notified voters of the project during the campaign for Measure RR, a $353-million bond measure approved by voters in 2008. Scroggins said the parking project was included in materials handed out to residents explaining Measure RR.

“We believe the bond documents did not clearly indicate a parking structure,” Wishner said.

Walnut’s city attorney has sent a letter to the college, citing a case in which a group from San Diego sued the school district for using bond funds to erect lights at a high school stadium. The Taxpayers for Accountable School Bond Spending initially lost in Superior Court, but the ruling was overturned in their favor by the Court of Appeals earlier this year.

Wishner said the San Diego case will be part of the information presented by the City Council to the Mt. SAC board tonight.

One year since closure, Puente Hills Landfill gets ready to become a park

A five-foot layer of dirt covers the top of the Puente Hills Landfill in Whittier a year after its closure on Wednesday October 29, 2014. The Sanitation Districts are working with LA County Parks and Recreation to make it into a regional park. (Photo by Keith Durflinger/San Gabriel Valley Tribune) 

More than a year later, the Puente Hills Landfill near Hacienda Heights is as quiet as the cemetery next door, signaling a significant if unnoticed twist in the management of household trash.

The activity — garbage trucks crammed with commingled waste and smaller trucks bursting with pure recyclables or yard waste — has shifted to material recovery facilities (MRFs) that are popping up all over Southern California, while some still goes to traditional landfills.

About half the 7,500 tons per day of household waste that filled the nation’s largest landfill in 2013 now enters the Puente Hills Material Recovery Facility located in the shadow of the 40-story high rubbish site towering above the Pomona Freeway. The other half gets buried in landfills — not in Los Angeles County — but in Orange and San Bernardino counties, said Chuck Boehmke, Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts Solid Waste Department head.

While not at the “zero waste” ideal urged by environmental groups, the county on Oct. 21 set a goal of diverting 80 percent of waste from unincorporated communities away from landfills by 2025 — equivalent to throwing out three pounds per person per day.

To get the county to its goal, help has arrived from private industry who see dollars in every trash truck load.

For example, Athens Services, based in Industry, expanded its MRF on Valley Boulevard in 2007 to accept more commingled waste. In fact, Athens opened a brand new $50 million facility in mid-October in the northeast San Fernando Valley — a state-of-the-art household waste-sorting plant, according to trade websites. Waste Management Inc., which has seen profits exceed expectation for six consecutive quarters, recently built a large recycling plant in Azusa at Gladstone and Irwindale avenues.

The connection between the closing of landfills and the opening of material recovery facilities is clear. It is out with the old and in with the new, explained Gary Clifford, executive vice president of Athens Services.

Athens has been busy usurping government’s role. Its Sun Valley plant can process more than 330,000 tons of mixed waste every year and will help the city of Los Angeles meet a goal of zero waste into landfills by 2025. The Industry plant can process between 1.5 million and 1.8 million tons of waste a year.

The waste company is expanding operations, with plans in the works to build another mixed-waste processing plant in Irwindale, Clifford said.

Since Puente Hills Landfill closed, Athens saw an increase at its facilities, he said. While landfills still play a role, many more are being run by private companies. Residual waste that can’t be sold to overseas markets as recyclables gets shipped to landfills operated by Athens in Rialto, Victorville and Redlands, he said.

Waste Management, which posted a $270 million profit in the third quarter on Oct. 29, dumps Los Angeles County trash at its El Sobrante Landfill in Corona, in Riverside County.

Nonrecyclable waste that once ended up in Puente Hills Landfill gets taken to landfills in Irvine and Brea, Boehmke said. The Sanitation Districts operate Scholl Canyon Landfill in Glendale which serves that city, as well as the communities of Pasadena, South Pasadena, San Marino, Sierra Madre, La Crescenta, Altadena and La Cañada-Flintridge; and a landfill in Calabasas that serves Los Angeles and parts of Ventura County, Boehmke said.

The Sanitation Districts have a contract with Orange County that continues through June 2016. Boehmke hopes OC will extend that contract. The two sides are in discussions but he would not elaborate on the progress.

Meanwhile, as private trash companies take larger portions of the trash pile, that may raise household trash rates in the future, Clifford said.

“Processing (of garbage) costs more money than source separating but the increase is nominal,” he said.

Athens was the first in the county to operate a mixed-waste plant. Its business model allows residents to throw all waste into one bin except for yard trimmings which are placed in a separate bin. The sorting of valuable recyclables is done by workers picking through garbage as it travels down a conveyor belt inside odor-controled buildings — not inside one’s kitchen.

While it may raise costs, material recovery facilities are more efficient and greener than pre-sorting, he said, because they divert more waste away from landfills which emit methane, a greenhouse gas. For example, since converting Bell Gardens to mixed-waste sorting, the city has increased its landfill diversion rates to more than 50 percent, he said.

Recyclables from various material-recovery plants are usually sent to the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles and sold to overseas manufacturers, Boehmke said. Even fabric, such as an old flannel shirt, gets separated from mixed-waste bins and re-used by garment makers, Clifford said.

“In the future, landfills will have less and less tonnage. There will be more alternatives to landfills,” Clifford said. His company is working on anaerobic digestion of “wet waste” that can turn turbines and make power, he said. Future technologies also include extracting methane from waste to power automobiles or electric power plants.

At Puente Hills, methane heats water that makes steam and turns turbines that generate 50 megawatts of power, enough to light 70,000 homes. Boehmke figures the methane will run out in about 15 years.

What will happen to the 630-acre former operating landfill that sits on 1,365 acres? Most will be turned into a park, Boehmke said.

The Sanitation Districts have placed 1 million cubic yards of dirt five-feet deep in the former landfill zone since last Nov. 1, he said. The final cover is 95 percent complete and should be finished by the end of November, Boehmke said. “Then we will be planting, seeding and putting in the final irrigation system so we don’t get erosion,” he said.

The county Department of Parks and Recreation is working on a master plan for a new regional park that will connect with 25 miles of trails. The Sanitation District will give the county department $814,000 for that effort which goes before the Board of Supervisors Nov. 12, said Norma E, Garcia, the department’s director of planning and development.

“To have 1,200 acres coming into the public domain for a park is really exciting,” Garcia said.