Judge denies Chiquita closure petition, leaves window for another try 

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

An L.A. County Superior Court judge denied Wednesday an attempt by Castaic and Val Verde residents trying to shut down Chiquita Canyon Landfill, but left open a door for the petitioners to “have another chance” to argue an amended complaint in about three months. 

The Citizens for Chiquita Canyon Closure, represented by about 10 residents who made the trek to Downtown L.A. for the hearing, are suing L.A. County and Chiquita Canyon Landfill to try to close the facility, which has drawn complaints for more than a year. 

The facility is subject to regulations from multiple task forces, with regulatory representatives ranging from the local, state and federal levels working to help Texas-based Waste Connections remediate the problems at its Castaic facility. 

A subsurface reaction occurring at around 200 degrees has been producing nauseating gases and leachate found to be toxic, both of which have created many health and quality-of-life concerns for the community.  

The concerns have ranged from air pollution that residents say have forced them indoors to concerns about potential impacts to the local water table. 

However, on Wednesday, Judge Stephen I. Goorvitch said that, based on the complaint he had in front of him, he couldn’t solve residents’ problems because it’s not appropriate for him to take discretionary authority away from the county. 

“The problem that I see with this petition is that this petition is really asking me to put myself in the shoes of the county and force an enforcement action,” Goorvitch said. 

The conditional use permit granted by the L.A. County Department of Regional Planning for Chiquita Canyon gives the authority to do things, but with a very narrow exception, it does not “require” the county to do anything, he said, with the very narrow exception of site inspections. 

“I want to be clear … I am not unsympathetic to the concerns,” Goorvitch said. “To the contrary, I understand the complaints and I am sympathetic to the concerns raised — the problem that I have is I think this is being raised in the wrong forum. Because essentially, the petitioners are seeking to force the county to take action, which is all discretionary in terms of how they proceed with their enforcement actions. 

“This is really an issue that has to either be brought to the county or to the Legislature,” he added. 

Oshea Orchid, an attorney representing the residents, responded to the judge’s comment about residents taking their concerns to the Legislature by saying there are laws on the books and residents have evidence that the landfill is not following them. 

Orchid, who also sits on the Castaic Area Town Council, said there are a number of actions the county could have taken to address the problems; however, the judge mentioned them as discretionary, in reiterating his concerns about removing the county’s authority. 

“We are pleased with today’s court ruling, which will allow Chiquita Canyon to continue to play its critical role as part of the county’s solid waste-disposal systems,” according to a prepared statement shared Wednesday by John Musella, spokesman for Chiquita Canyon Landfill. “As the EPA and other regulatory agencies have concurred, the landfill’s regular, waste disposal operations are not affecting or contributing to the elevated temperature landfill event (ELTF) occurring at Chiquita Canyon. Chiquita Canyon continues to work diligently every day, and in cooperation with our regulators and authorities, to implement extensive odor mitigation measures at the landfill to reduce impacts on the local community.” 

Orchid also argued that by going beyond the scope of its original permits, the landfill is now subject to an additional analysis under the California Environmental Quality Act, an argument that Goorvitch said he was willing to let Orchid make at the next hearing.  

Dusan Pavlovic, attorney for L.A. County, said the term “permits” is being used very loosely, and there was no record in court filings of what Orchid was referring to in terms of actions beyond the original scope of approval. He also said there are numerous state and federal lawsuits that are more appropriate avenues for residents to seek relief from the landfill.  

During a community meeting in February, residents learned the Department of Toxic Substances Control had granted emergency permission for treating waste at the facility in order to deal with the excess leachate, after it was learned that leachate with toxic levels of benzene was sent to a facility not permitted to handle toxic substances. 

Goorvitch requested the amended complaint by July 22, which would give the county and the landfill until Aug. 23 to respond, ahead of arguments that would be made in Department 82 on Sept. 25. 

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