Garcia, county discuss frustration over Chiquita Canyon 

Protestors gather in support of shutting down Chiquita Canyon Landfill on Thursday at Hasley Canyon Park. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal
Protestors gather in support of shutting down Chiquita Canyon Landfill on Thursday at Hasley Canyon Park. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal

Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Santa Clarita, implored L.A. County officials to declare a state of emergency over Chiquita Canyon Landfill and again asked the state to do the same during a virtual Castaic Area Town Council meeting on Wednesday. 

In response, state and county representatives each said the other should be responsible for taking the lead on such a declaration. 

The town council, a county advisory body for the unincorporated communities of Castaic and Val Verde, has been regularly discussing problems at the landfill for more than a year, with more than 10,000 complaints filed this year. 

The landfill is undergoing a settlement issue causing it to sink up to one foot a month, creating a subsurface reaction at temperatures of around 250 degrees, according to officials. 

The exact cause of the reaction is unknown, but the result has been overwhelming: Officials reported during Wednesday’s virtual meeting that the landfill has produced more than 24 million gallons of leachate this past year, as well as landfill gases. Both have odors that residents have described as nauseating. 

Declaration of frustration 

Garcia said the health and environmental impacts from these pollutants, as well as the need to better document exactly what resources are available and being used, are why a state of emergency needs to be declared. 

“What we heard when my office met with the L.A. County Office of Emergency Services is that they literally said one of the primary reasons they oppose the state of emergency is because they were afraid it would shift burden of payment and cost from Chiquita to the county,” Garcia said, “And so when we look at that as a rationale and that is, you know, said either publicly or privately to me, that’s, that is a problem.” 

County officials, represented by Stephanie English, senior field deputy for L.A. County 5th District Supervisor Kathryn Barger, and Barger’s planning deputy, Anish Saraiya, said there still appeared to be a disconnect in the information given to each of the elected officials at the meeting, including Assemblywoman Pilar Schiavo, D-Chatsworth, who was on the call virtually and also asked for the declaration.  

Garcia said that, with the Aliso Canyon gas leak, it took about 90 days for everyone up to the state level to make emergency declarations.  

“But I’m seeing a completely diametrically opposed response from the local county officials, the supervisors, the county public health officials, and our state elected officials,” Garcia said, referring to the Chiquita Canyon response, “and I’m glad (Schiavo) is on this call because she is in a supermajority at the state level. She has access to the governor and so I’m looking forward to hearing what her take is on why the governor is pushing back or why the county is pushing back on a state of emergency, because I think that’s what’s needed.” 

Schiavo said that her conversations with the state have indicated that the first agency to take the lead on a declaration before the state should be the county. 

“It is pretty frustrating that what we’re hearing is that everybody has what they need and the state of emergency wouldn’t really bring any other resources,” Schiavo said, referring to the county’s response to date to such requests.  

She mentioned relocation services specifically as something that could be better resourced with such a declaration, which she said was part of why she sent a letter with a half-dozen other legislators’ signatures to Gov. Gavin Newsom. 

County response 

English said Schiavo should push the governor’s office for a formal answer to her letter. Saraiya also said the state never indicated to county officials when they met that the county would need to declare an emergency before the state could. 

Saraiya said Kevin McGowan is the county’s expert on such a call as the director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management. He reported back to the county that the state’s Office of Emergency Services had no intention of making such a call because it’s unnecessary. That was a sentiment that was shared by several state officials at the last EPA meeting in March, including by officials with the California Office of Emergency Services. 

English also said the state and the county were aligned in that respect, and that Schiavo’s office had not been briefed by Cal OES, an oversight she blamed on Cal OES. English said this is why everyone needs to get on the same page, and Saraiya said that was the county’s commitment.  

A frustrated Garcia offered an alternate theory, blaming bureaucrats who were looking after financial liabilities at the expense of residents’ health.     

He said the county’s answers were affirming his concerns, that county officials sounded more worried about the burden and the tools instead of doing the most for residents.  

“The bottom line is, I think this is a state of emergency. There’s no logical rationale not to treat it as such. The parallels between this and Aliso Canyon are about as closely matched as you can, you can get and every level of government agencies was all on board for declaring Aliso Canyon a state of emergency,” he said.  

Ultimately, he agreed to meet offline with county officials.  

English said Barger’s office was not contacted ahead of time regarding Garcia and Schiavo speaking at Wednesday’s meeting, and if she had known, she would have made sure to attend. It’s very important to Barger that everyone is working together on the same page for residents, she said. 

“That’s the purpose of (Barger) wanting to align with her colleagues in the elected offices and to have a public meeting,” English said.  

Steve Cassulo, general manager of the landfill, said Wednesday the core temperature has remained consistent, indicating the reaction site of the landfill has not grown or decreased recently. He said he would like to see temperatures in the more normal range of about 140 to 150 degrees at such a reaction site. 
He also previously said the landfill’s goal to have its relief wells drilled and installed by the end of the year. The landfill has been drilling six days a week to meet that goal and the drilling has been cited as making the smell worse for the time being. 

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