Lynne Plambeck | Court Ruling Could Be Trouble for SCV

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This November Superior Court Judge Daniel Murphy ruled that Waste Connections, the international corporation that operates Chiquita Canyon Landfill, had the right of “equitable estoppel” to continue to pursue its litigation over the conditions of approval for their 2017 operating permit. (See Signal Article Nov. 22, “Court greenlights Chiquita Canyon to challenge county.”)

Since I am not an attorney, this action took some researching to understand its full meaning. When I did, I became very concerned. You should be, too.

Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment (SCOPE) has long opposed the continued operation of the Chiquita Canyon Landfill. First it is located immediately adjacent to the community of Val Verde, whose residents were promised two decades ago that the landfill would be closed in October of this year. They have suffered for years from odors and air pollution that are not remedied by the new permit. 

That’s why SCOPE joined with the community of Val Verde to bring legal action against this approval for its failure to properly address air pollution (they used monitoring stations in the San Fernando Valley to say there was no pollution), greenhouse gases, odors and environmental justice (the county argued that Val Verde was not a community of color because, when averaged in with all of Los Angeles, it wasn’t that different). 

We lost against this multibillion-dollar corporation, just as the county of Los Angeles has now also lost. But the real losers, it seems, are the residents of our valley and the people of the state of California.

I have often wondered why there isn’t more local outcry against this huge landfill, one of the largest in the country. After all, when we were faced with a proposal for the Elsmere Canyon landfill in the Newhall Pass, the city of Santa Clarita led the charge, turning out thousands in opposition. Could it be the substantial donations to local charities and political campaigns made by the landfill operator? Is that what led them to ignore the air pollution, traffic and destruction of our roads by huge semi tractor trailers hauling trash in from all over Southern California? How could they have ignored the impacts on the SCV of this regional landfill, to which our residents contribute only about 10% of the trash?

Now, with this preliminary ruling, this $3.6 billion multinational corporation, Waste Connections, owner of Chiquita Landfill, is attempting to re-negotiate the conditions of approval for this project. This has never been allowed before. 

The conditions of approval and the mitigation monitoring plans are supposed to protect local communities from unhealthy impacts of projects. It is one reason we have zoning approvals, environmental impact reports and county and city land use permit approval process. 

Imagine if, after all the negotiations over a project like this for air monitoring, traffic, etc., the developer says he accepts everything, gets his permit and then sues the county, but continues building. Where does that leave the residents?

SCOPE and others were upset with the county’s and the landfill’s failure to disclose information in the environmental impact report, so that it could be addressed in the conditions. But we stand with the county in their efforts to enforce the conditions of approval to which this operator agreed. If our cities and counties are unable to enforce the permitting conditions of projects against big developers, there may be much more than just bad air at stake.

We urge the city of Santa Clarita and other cities to stand with the county of Los Angeles to ensure that the California Environmental Quality Act and their ability to condition current and future projects is not jeopardized by this decision.

Lynne Plambeck is president of the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment. Her commentary does not necessarily reflect the views of The Signal or its editorial board.

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