OCEANSIDE: Council continues opposition to Gregory Canyon landfill
By RAY HUARD [email protected]
Oceanside City Council members, in an emotion-packed session Wednesday, stuck with the city's long-standing objection to construction of the Gregory Canyon landfill near Pala, but voted to oppose state legislation that would kill the landfill proposal.
The vote was 3-2 with Councilmen Gary Felien, Jerry Kern and Jack Feller voting for a resolution to oppose the legislation and Mayor Jim Wood and Councilwoman Esther Sanchez voting against it.
Wood said he wouldn't sign a letter opposing the landfill legislation despite the council majority vote.
"I'm not signing it," Wood told the other council members. "Write your own damn letters."
The legislation by state Sen. Juan Vargas, D-San Diego, would prohibit the construction or operation of a landfill within 1,000 feet of the San Luis Rey River or land considered sacred by American Indians.
Kern said it was bad public policy for the Legislature to sidestep regulators in determining whether the landfill should be built.
"It should be approved or disapproved on the merits of the project itself, not by legislative action," Kern said. "The regulators are doing their job. Let them do their job."
Felien said last week that he wanted the city to take a fresh look at its position on Gregory Canyon because the deadline is nearing for public comment on the project.
Because of ongoing concern about the water supply, Felien said Wednesday "that's going to be for another time, another place."
For now, Felien said he wanted to focus on the state legislation.
Felien said the legislation "sends an absolutely horrible message all over the world" that California is a bad place to do business.
Wood and Sanchez said the city shouldn't be taking positions on state legislation.
"I've never been against a landfill in San Diego County," Wood said. "I've just been against the location of this one."
Oceanside has opposed the landfill since 1990 because officials said it threatens water the city gets from the San Luis Rey aquifer, which accounts for about 20 percent of the city's drinking water.
The city at one point even joined a lawsuit filed by the Pala Band of Indians and an environmental group challenging the environmental impact report done on the landfill.
City Water Utilities director Cari Dale said the landfill was "a bad deal."
She said possible contamination from the landfill "is something we as a water department can't protect against."
Geologist Dennis Williams, who studied the landfill proposal, said the landfill was "a ticking time bomb that could cause irreplaceable damage to a water resource."
Gregory Canyon Ltd. representatives said concern over groundwater contamination from the landfill was unwarranted.
Richard Felago, co-manager of the landfill implementation team, said the landfill would be protected by liners that can last "hundreds of years."
If the liners fail, Felago said interceptor wells would capture any contamination before it reached the groundwater.
"The bottom line is the water quality will be protected," Felago said.
The Pala Band of Indians is fighting in court to stop the landfill for environmental reasons and because it intrudes on land the tribe considers sacred.
A tribe representative, Mel Vernon, called the landfill "some kind of time bomb."
"One of the basic things to nurture life is clean water," Vernon said. "We can't go on contaminating our own source of life."
Joshua Cleaver of the San Diego chapter of the Sierra Club said the legislation is in keeping with the city's more than 20-year opposition to the landfill.
County voters approved ballot propositions supporting the landfill in 1994 and 2004. The landfill proposed by Gregory Canyon Ltd. would cover more than 200 acres of land near Pala.
Former state Sen. Bill Morrow said the amount of trash generated in North County will reach 1 million tons annually by 2020. He said the landfill liner designed to keep landfill material from leaking into the aquifer "far exceeds" state requirements.
"We need to be sticking our trash in the ground, not our heads," said Morrow, whose law firm represents the landfill developers.
Taking an opposing view, former Mayor Terry Johnson urged the council to keep the city's opposition the the landfill unchanged to protect the city's water supply.
About 30 people addressed the council, with the overwhelming majority urging the council to support the state legislation and continue opposing the landfill.
"There are alternatives. You need to find a better place to put a landfill if you really need one," said resident Chuck McDonnell.
Resident Jimmy Knott said the landfill isn't needed and goes against a city policy to strive to produce zero waste.
"We don't need a dump," Knott said. "In fact, dumps are ancient technology. We recycle. We reuse."
Nadine Scott, chairwoman of the city Integrated Waste Commission, said anyone who votes to reverse the city position "has his mind on drugs."
"Who in their right mind would put a dump on the San Luis Rey River?" Scott said. "I just talked with a child. She got it."
In an unrelated matters, the council approved new contracts with two labor groups representing about 82 city workers under which members will pay a greater share of their pensions and adopt a two-tier retirement system.
The changes in contracts with Management Employees of the City of Oceanside and the Western Council of Engineers would require new members to work longer before they can retire and to collect less in pension payments.
The council also approved plans to resurface the Brooks Street pool at an estimated cost of $75,000.