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L.A. can resume shipping sewage sludge to Kern County after judge overturns voters' ban

A judge has struck down a voter initiative passed in 2006 that banned dumping of about 450,000 tons a year of treated human waste from Southern California on Kern County farmland.

Tulare County Superior Court Judge Lloyd Hicks, in a 48-page opinion issued Monday, ruled that Measure E “is invalid and void for all purposes, for the dual reasons that it exceeds Kern’s police power and is preempted by state law.”

He also ruled that “there is no evidence of risk to human health” posed by the shipments of treated waste used as fertilizer and soil amendment on Green Acres, a 4,700-acre farm the city of Los Angeles bought in 1999 for $15 million.

The sludge is tilled into the farm’s soil to fertilize crops, including corn and wheat.

“The Los Angeles Sanitation Department is very pleased with this outcome,” Traci Minamide, the department’s chief operating officer, said in an interview. “We’re also pleased to be able continue applying our recycled beneficially usable product on Green Acres.”

The ruling concluded a trial over the merits of a lawsuit filed by a coalition of farmers, contractors and public agencies led by the city to abolish the ballot initiative overwhelmingly approved by Kern County voters. It made it a misdemeanor to dump treated waste known as biosolids on unincorporated county land.

Campaign slogans such as “Measure E will stop LA from dumping on Kern,” and “We got the bully next door flinging garbage over his fence into our yard,” made it clear the measure aimed to slam the door on Los Angeles’ treated waste.

Kern County has battled in court for a decade to uphold the ban, which it said was intended to protect underground water and the local environment from possible contamination and emissions from diesel trucks.

Los Angeles argued that the shipments were a legal form of interstate commerce and therefore beyond the reach of county legislation or ballot initiatives.

The city maintained that the shipments were necessary because federal and state environmental laws have stopped cities and counties from dumping sludge in the ocean and severely limited sanitation districts’ ability to dispose of the waste in landfills.

Kern County Counsel Mark Nations said the Board of Supervisors would decide whether to appeal the decision.

Louis.Sahagun@latimes.com

Twitter: @LouisSahagun

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UPDATES:

4:30 p.m.: This article was updated with reaction and additional background.

This article was originally published at 2:40 p.m.

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