From News Release and Signal Staff Reports
Fifth District L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger announced Friday $2 million from a community fund set up in 2017 as a term of approval for Chiquita Canyon Landfill’s 30-year conditional-use permit is now being made available to residents impacted by the landfill’s stench.
County officials denied the Friday afternoon announcement was in connection to a class-action lawsuit filed Aug. 25 by Castaic and Val Verde residents who have asked the county to shut down the landfill due to the violations of its CUP related to the smell complaints.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District has received around 1,800 complaints about the landfill since the beginning of the year, which has ramped up significantly in recent months. The violation log the landfill is required to maintain notes the AQMD has found the landfill in violation — which represents at least six different complaints being substantiated in a 24-hour period — every day but two in August.
The money is being made available initially to support community members burdened by the pungent odors stemming from the Chiquita Canyon Landfill. One neighbor described the smell as what happens when you leave rotting garbage out. Another resident, Steven Howse, who’s a party to the lawsuit, said he smells garbage in the morning and landfill gases at night, and both are so bad they’ve caused headaches and nausea.
Barger’s office also announced county attorneys have asked the landfill to reduce its daily intake of waste by 35% until the odor issue is addressed.
“There is no doubt in my mind that residents who live near the landfill are suffering,” Barger said in a news release. “My hope is that these funds will begin to provide some immediate and much deserved relief. I have made it clear to the landfill’s owner, to the county departments involved permitting the landfill’s operations, and to the state agencies responsible for its regulation that this is an urgent issue. I will not let up until we get rid of the smell.”
This initial round of funding is from the Chiquita Canyon Landfill’s Community Benefit Fund – monies derived from the landfill’s operation that are earmarked for initiatives related to improving the community’s quality of life.
Residents who live within a predetermined radius of the Chiquita Canyon Landfill will be eligible for grant awards per household. Priority areas and grant award ranges will be announced next week, the release said.
The corporate office for Chiquita Canyon Landfill was not immediately available for comment Friday afternoon in response to the release.
Grant funds can be used to make home modifications that keep the landfill’s odors out of living areas – including retrofitting homes to include air conditioning for those with only swamp coolers, adding insulation, and replacing windows and doors. Residents can also use the grant to pay for utility bills, including electricity bills that have skyrocketed due to constant use of indoor air conditioning systems.
Abigail Desesa Ordway, a longtime resident of Val Verde, which is part of the community closest to the landfill, said she wished it happened a bit earlier, but she appreciated that it’s happening.
Last week, L.A. County and Chiquita Canyon Landfill were named as codefendants in a class-action lawsuit filed by more than two dozen residents who live in the community and have been complaining about the smell, as well as health concerns, for months now.
“Since the odors and gases started invading my life, I have felt like to the county I wasn’t poor enough to matter or rich enough to be afraid of,” said Desesa Ordway, who’s also the member of the Castaic Area Town Council who represents the Val Verde area. “The people of my community, myself included, have lost any kind of quality of life and for the first time, in my opinion, Supervisor Barger is acknowledging this. This money is not from the taxpayers, and I have begged for months for it to be released to help my community. I wish it had happened earlier, but I am so grateful it is finally going to happen. The supervisor and the county departments involved cannot neglect to protect the residents of my community. This is the right start, but it is only a start.”
Critics of the landfill have asked questions of the county about the community benefit fund for weeks after Steve Cassulo, district manager for Chiquita Canyon Landfill, said none of the money the landfill has agreed to pay to the community as a term of its conditional use permit’s approval in 2017 had been distributed due to a lawsuit.
Chiquita Canyon Landfill officials cited a number of efforts the company has already made to help mitigate the smell, which are listed at the landfill’s website, including industrial fans, covers and a program to distribute air filters.
Helen Chavez, director of communications for Barger, said the timing of the release of funds was already in the works prior to last week’s lawsuit filing and was unrelated to the recent legal action, which Barger called “unsurprising” in a statement to The Signal on Wednesday.
An attorney for the plaintiffs in the class-action suit was not immediately available for comment Friday evening.
The fund has approximately $3.9 million, Chavez said Friday, and some of the fund is earmarked for addressing other quality-of-life and remediation issues at the landfill. The county plans to have staff available to offer support for residents trying to figure out how to get the money as the program rolls out, she added.
More information about the Chiquita Canyon Landfill Grant Program, including how to apply, will be posted next week at chiquitacanyon.com. The grant program will be administered by the Los Angeles County Development Authority.
To find a permanent solution to stopping the odors coming from the landfill, Barger has launched a whole-of-county-government effort, the release said.
A new L.A. County Chiquita Canyon Task Force has been convening since August 2023 that includes representatives from the county’s Public Works, Regional Planning, Public Health, County Counsel, and the Office of Emergency Management.
“Its members are incessantly working with state agencies and the landfill’s operator, Chiquita Canyon LLC, emphasizing the urgency of the community’s needs, identifying and eliminating red tape, and providing technical assistance as needed,” the release said.
L.A. County’s Department of Regional Planning has established a telephone line and email inbox to receive public complaints regarding the Chiquita Canyon Landfill odor issue. To file a complaint, email [email protected] or call 213-974-6483 Monday through Thursday, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The root cause of the odors is being investigated, the release said. The state agency CalRecycle, which has regulatory oversight responsibilities for solid waste disposal facilities, is analyzing samples.
On Friday, attorneys from Los Angeles County also sent a letter to Chiquita Canyon LLC, asking the landfill operator to temporarily reduce the landfill’s daily solid waste and other materials intake by 35% of the maximum daily tonnage capacity as set forth in the landfill’s conditional use permit, “until the source and the cause of the odor problem are definitively established, the corresponding remedial measures implemented, and it becomes clear that the odors have been eliminated or reduced to such a level that there no longer exists an unacceptable threat to the health, safety, and/or welfare of the county’s residents or the environment.”