Lynne Plambeck | County Must Follow Its Own Conditions

On Aug. 23 the California Superior Court finally heard arguments on the litigation brought by Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment (SCOPE) and the Val Verde community regarding the failure of the environmental review process to fully disclose problems regarding air quality, odor, greenhouse gas and environmental justice during the Chiquita Canyon Landfill public review process. (signalscv.com/2019/08/val-verde-residents-concerned-about-landfill-heard-in-court-friday/)

People often wonder why it is so important to residents to fully disclose problems in the environmental impact report (EIR). The reason is simple. The whole purpose of public review and the environmental process is to disclose problems so the decision makers (in this case, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors) can address and try to reduce those problems to the extent possible.

But when the project proponent doesn’t fully or accurately disclose the issues or tries to pretend they don’t exist by downplaying or obfuscating information, the planning process cannot perform this important task. 

That is exactly what SCOPE and Val Verde residents think happened two years ago for the four issues above, when the supervisors approved the massive expansion of Chiquita Canyon Landfill, allowing it to double in size and take in up to 63 million tons of trash over the next 30 years. 

As the plaintiff’s attorney described it for us in his opening remarks, these are not “gotcha” detail errors in the environmental impact report (EIR). They are core values affecting the health and welfare of this rural community. The community is affected by poor air quality and odors from the landfill, their kids have high asthma rates and nearby residents complain of nausea and other health issues.

Let’s take a closer look at the air quality data. The landfill’s EIR consultant, CH2MHill (who is paid by the landfill through a county billing system) chose to use air quality data from a monitoring station 7 miles away from the landfill in Newhall and from another monitoring station in Reseda, 13 miles away in an entirely different valley, instead of gathering monitoring data in the community or at stations nearby. 

How in the world could data collected so far away accurately reflect dust or fumes from the landfill? It seems obvious on its face that such distant stations would not provide accurate data.

Why didn’t they use nearby monitoring stations? Could it have been because such data might have shown real problems that they did not want to disclose or address? 

It seems obvious to us that even the supervisors realized this was wrong, since in their 2017 landfill expansion approval they required continuous monitoring stations to be set up close by in the community. Condition No. 68 addresses this issue by requiring that:

“The consultant shall identify locations surrounding the landfill in the community of Val Verde, nearby centers of employment and schools within a 5-mile radius of the landfill to install air monitoring stations…. Air monitoring shall be continuous. In addition, a minimum of 12 random tests shall be conducted at sites recommended by the consultant, each year for the life of this permit.”

This requirement would hopefully provide real data to the community and help them address this potentially serious health issue in their community.

But the county has not followed many of the conditions of approval that were imposed supposedly to protect this rural community from the bad air and health issues with which it has been plagued for decades. 

For instance, they and the landfill’s air monitoring consultant have recently decided that monitoring for volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are carcinogenic air pollutants, will occur only three times a month in specified locations instead of the continuous monitoring required by condition No. 68. With recent news about 2014 violations and the potentially hazardous Woolsey fire waste being accepted at Chiquita landfill, this is not acceptable. The county most keep its promise to accurately and continuously monitor air quality in communities near the landfill.

Many community members attended the recent hearing. Honorable Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff listened carefully to the issues from all sides, then continued the oral arguments to Friday, Sept. 13, at 1:30 p.m., saying he had additional questions. 

We will be there to see what they are.

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

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