Lynne Plambeck: County, hold strong on Chiquita requirements

A bulldozer pushes exposed trash at Chiquita Canyon Landfill in this Signal file photo by Dan Watson.

After years of battling with the County, the operators and owners of Chiquita Canyon Landfill got what they wanted. In July 2017 they were granted a 30 year expansion of their already huge landfill on Highway 126 in the Santa Clarita Valley. This expansion nearly doubled its size and permitted the landfill to almost triple the amount of trash it had previously accepted to 60 million tons. The expansion was approved in spite of massive opposition from the community and concerns over air pollution from local school districts.

Located less than a mile from the historic town of Val Verde, residents of that community were promised the landfill would close. Odors, air pollution and truck traffic on 126 had long been a concern. People were getting sick. That’s why they had agreed to drop their lawsuit 20 years ago in exchange for the promise that dumping would end when the landfill reached 23 million tons or in 2019 as stated in condition #46 of the 1997 approval.

The developers of the Newhall Ranch project apparently believed this promise as well since the elementary school in their Landmark Village tract along the Santa Clara River is located almost directly across the highway from the landfill entrance. What developer would want to try to sell houses in a new community with a lovely view of an active landfill?

But everyone should know by now that the County is really not good about keeping the promises it makes to communities in the form of the Conditions of Approval that are attached to project permits. In fact, those conditions, which the community mistakenly believes are a covenant they can count on, are often changed a year or two down the road with a majority vote from the Planning Commission or the Supervisors. The community may not even know it is happening.

This is exactly what happened to the people of Val Verde, when in 2016, The Director of Regional Planning waived condition 46 and allowed the landfill to continue operating past the tonnage limit at which time it was supposed to close. When this information was discussed before the Planning Commission, the County Counsel explained that the words “shall close” don’t really mean that the landfill should have to close.

Now, after all the maneuvering to allow this huge three billion dollar Texas based multinational corporation to continue to operate a dump that brings in trash to Santa Clarita from all over Southern California, Waste Connections did the unthinkable. It sued the County because it didn’t like the amount of fees it is required to pay. It didn’t like the limitations in the Conditions of Approval.

No developer to my knowledge, has sued the County since CEMEX, the international mining corporation based in Mexico, sued over a denial of its permit to mine millions of tons of gravel out of the hills in Canyon Country near residential communities.

The City of Santa Clarita has fought a long battle against this mining project due to its affect on air quality, the massive amount of truck traffic it would add to the local freeway system and negative impacts it would have on the Santa Clara River. The irony of this battle against CEMEX, carried on at the same time the City supported the Chiquita Canyon landfill expansion with all the same attributes, was lost on no one. But that’s a story of another article.

However, unlike CEMEX, the Chiquita owners sued over an APPROVAL, filing a writ of mandate against the County in October of last year. The suit charged that the increased fees were illegal and amounted to a “taking” of their rights, among other things.

Waste Connections refused to abide by the conditions that they had apparently agreed to in an acceptance letter. They continued to dump auto shredder waste into the landfill, forbidden due to its proximity to the Santa Clara River and the community of Val Verde, among other issues. And, perhaps the most egregious violation to the County, they failed to pay the increased fees for “Out of County” trash and for road improvements.

After a hearing in March brought by the County to enforce its conditions, the operators filed an amended complaint in state court claiming that the hearing which found them in violation was unfair.

So this huge out of state corporation, while claiming to be a good neighbor and donating to local charities (who then supported the continuation of this unwanted activity in our community), and after receiving the blessing and support of Senator Scott Wilk, and donating substantial money to the campaigns of local water district Board members, is at the same time suing the County over the conditions by which they agreed to abide. These include a violation of the waste restrictions made to keep our community safe.

Will the County of Los Angeles hold strong and continue to enforce its conditions in the face of these lawsuits? Will the charities and other members of our community that supported this out of state multinational think again about what they have helped to enable in our community?

Lynne Plambeck is President of the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment.

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