Residents question landfill relief fund; Garcia sends letter 

A truck leaves Chiquita Canyon Landfill in Castaic on Tuesday. Dan Watson/ The Signal
A truck leaves Chiquita Canyon Landfill in Castaic on Tuesday. Dan Watson/ The Signal
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Castaic and Val Verde residents are questioning whether accepting assistance from a Chiquita Canyon Landfill relief fund may impact their future legal options — and, after residents’ concerns were not allayed by the landfill’s response, county Supervisor Kathryn Barger issued a statement Thursday calling on the landfill to provide the assistance to residents “with no strings attached.” 

The move comes as Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Santa Clarita, sent a bipartisan letter co-signed by a Ventura County member of Congress and several state lawmakers, urging Gov. Gavin Newsom to declare a state of emergency over the landfill. He has pushed for its closure this week while it works through its problems. 

A representative for the Chiquita Canyon Landfill said the facility was still working on a response to the questions Thursday morning but sent over the link to the language in the application and denied that the relief fund application’s language is intended to hamper residents’ ability to sue. 

During Tuesday’s monthly Community Advisory Committee meeting, a resident asked the landfill about whether she was waiving any liability by accepting the community benefit fund’s help. 

John Perkey, vice president and legal counsel for Chiquita’s owner, Waste Connections, replied: “We can’t comment on any active litigation.”  

The growing number of questions from residents prompted Barger’s statement Thursday: 

“I recently called upon Waste Connections, the parent company of Chiquita Canyon Landfill, to provide funding to help the communities that are suffering the impacts of the incident that is occurring at (Chiquita). Specifically, I asked that funding be provided for relocation services for those who choose to relocate, as well as home-hardening and utility relief,” wrote Barger, who represents the Santa Clarita Valley. “My expectation is that the landfill’s proprietors are stepping up to my request for community supNport and will provide that support with no strings attached. This will show they are working in good faith to meet the needs of the surrounding community. Anything less is unacceptable.” 

She also asked that the landfill address the community’s concerns about the terms “as swiftly and transparently as possible.” 

The concerns, which also were posted online, stem from this language:  

“By submitting this form you understand that any compensation received through this program is intended to compensate you for damages or injury you are claiming you have suffered from any odors or fumes emanating from the Chiquita Landfill, including but not limited to adverse health effects (past, current, or future), impact(s) on use, enjoyment, and/or value of property, impact(s) on daily activities, and/or any other personal injuries or property damage you may claim to have suffered.” 

A spokesman for Waste Connections said Thursday morning the landfill was working on a response to the concerns.  

Disclosure concerns  

A representative of a law firm for a class of plaintiffs suing to recoup the costs residents have faced as a result of the landfill, and another writ that seeks to shut it down, called the landfill’s approach “a little bit shady.” 

Shelby Miner, a partner with Sethi Orchid Miner, said she’s been researching whether accepting the fund could impact future claims on behalf of the residents in the class-action suit her firm is filing. 

Referring to the back-and-forth with Perkey at the Chiquita meeting, she said: “Failure to disclose something that’s a substantial impact to someone’s rights in ongoing litigation that they could be a part of, and possibly recover from, is kind of a big deal. It’s really misleading.”   

Miner said she wanted to make sure residents read the fine print clearly, because based on the paperwork she’s seen from residents, “It appears that any resident who completes and participates in a relief program will be waiving future damages and claims.” 

A representative for the landfill denied that was the case Thursday and said a statement would be forthcoming. 
The plaintiffs’ firm’s stance is that the government should be handling the disbursements, Miner added, so that residents don’t have to disclose information like their Social Security number, household information or other sensitive information to a company they could end up having to sue for damages. 

She also added that regardless of whether a resident plans to sue, they should always be careful about what information they disclose to any third party, which could be used against them later to reduce a lawsuit settlement.  

If a company has certain damages claimed from a resident, then the company can use that declaration to dispute a later claim, Miner said. 

Garcia’s letter 

Garcia’s letter called on the governor’s help with the Chiquita Canyon Landfill, and it was co-signed by Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Oxnard; Sens. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, and Henry Stern, D-Calabasas; and Assembly members Pilar Schiavo, D-Chatsworth, and Steve Bennett, D-Ventura.  

Garcia represents the entire SCV, including the landfill and surrounding communities. Schiavo and Wilk each represent most of the SCV, including the landfill, Castaic and Val Verde. The landfill, Castaic and Val Verde are just outside Stern’s district, but he represents other western portions of the SCV that could be impacted, including parts of Valencia and Stevenson Ranch. 

“Ongoing enforcement action since last year has been ineffective in mitigating the primary issues that are impacting our constituents. It has become clear that significant action is now necessary to bring relief to residents,” Garcia wrote in the letter. “Accordingly, we are asking you as representatives of the affected communities to exercise your authority under the Constitution of the state of California and the California Emergency Services Act to declare a state of emergency in Los Angeles County. Doing so will allow California to mobilize state resources and bring a swift resolution to this crisis and expedient relief to our constituents.”

The causes for state action include the many health impacts for residents, he wrote, which include nose bleeds, headaches, eye irritation, shortness of breath and nausea. 

State agencies’ requirements for monitoring haven’t helped residents, the letter says, stating “residents in the communities surrounding Chiquita Canyon landfill have faced increased air  

pollution without cessation for more than five months, including elevated levels of benzene, carbon tetrachloride and sulfur compounds,” which also was mentioned by Schiavo in her letter Monday calling for the declaration. 

Andrea Rosenthal, a field representative for Schiavo, when asked during the Community Advisory Committee why the request was necessary, responded that it would help cut red tape. 

Schiavo’s office said Thursday the governor had acknowledged the request, but there’s been no response with respect to a timeline.  

A representative from the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services said the office was working on a response to the request as of press time. 

Garcia has called on the landfill to close while it addresses its issues, citing the health impacts to residents. 

County officials have said previously that shutting down the landfill would not immediately address the smells, but Garcia and others have noted that nothing else seems to be working. 

In terms of further community discussion, the federal Environmental Protection Agency also created a website for an upcoming community meeting over the landfill: epa.gov/ca/chiquita-canyon-landfill-castaic-ca. The state Department of Toxic Substances Control also put together a website: dtsc.ca.gov/chiquita-landfill. 

The EPA website details the agency’s actions so far on the landfill, including a unilateral order the agency issued Feb. 21, as well as its goals and requirements.  

Thanne Berg, who’s been speaking to the community as the EPA’s representative for its actions at Chiquita Canyon Landfill, said the order was twofold: to control the reaction and to contain the off-site impacts. 

She was looking forward to hearing from residents at 6 p.m. March 21 in the multipurpose room at Castaic Middle School (28900 Hillcrest Parkway).  

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