Bill to Ease Way for Trash Plant Is Shelved

Times Staff Writers

A bill that would have made it harder for San Marcos voters to block the construction of a controversial trash-burning power plant was unexpectedly pulled from the Assembly floor on Thursday before a vote.

The bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Johan Klehs (D-San Leandro), would have removed a provision of an upcoming initiative measure in San Marcos that requires a two-thirds approval of the trash-burning power plant. The bill would have allowed just a simple majority of voters to approve the trash plant's construction.

The bill, AB 828, was scheduled to be voted on by the full Assembly on Thursday, after easily having cleared the Assembly Elections and Reapportionment Committee, which Klehs chairs, two weeks ago.

But Klehs, without notice, asked instead on Thursday that the bill be put in the inactive file, a sort of legislative limbo where it could remain indefinitely--or return immediately to the Assembly for a vote.

Klehs said later Thursday that he pulled the bill off the Assembly floor "because the heat is building up," especially in the wake of a column in Thursday's Sacramento Bee that Klehs said was critical of his measure.

He said he wanted supporters of the bill to further argue their case to legislators before he reintroduces it. "But I don't doubt that I have the votes," he said.

Klehs said he might not bring the bill to a vote before the April 30 election in San Marcos because the timing isn't that important.

"If this legislation is passed after April 30, it would still become the law of the state and would preempt whatever initiative is passed down there," he said in a telephone interview after returning to his home district.

"If the initiative passes on April 30, they'll still have to have another election on the trash plant, and by then, instead of having to get a two-thirds vote, the law will allow just a simple majority vote."

Assemblyman Robert Frazee (R-Carlsbad), in whose district the trash plant is planned, said he was surprised by Klehs' decision to put the bill in the inactive file.

Frazee said that while he supports the concept of trash-burning power plants and opposes the initiative's two-thirds requirement "because it allows a minority to dictate land-use decisions," he opposed to Klehs' measure because it was an improper state intrusion into local land-use affairs.

The bill was requested by North County Resource Recovery Associates, which wants to develop the $120-million project at the county landfill in southern San Marcos. NCRRA officials hoped the urgency legislation would quickly win approval of two-thirds of both the Assembly and Senate, and be signed by the governor so it could go into effect before the April 30 special election in San Marcos.

Pam Thornton, NCRRA's project coordinator, said, "We're not exactly sure" what happened to the bill. "But I'm sure it will still be passed. It's just that there are a lot of wealthy homeowners who are against the plant."

Opponents of the legislation said Klehs' decision to put the bill in the inactive file reflected an intense 11th-hour lobbying effort on their part to show opposition to the bill, which they learned about only after it already had passed through Klehs' committee and was headed for a vote by the full Assembly.

"There's grass-roots support down here for this initiative," said Jonathan Wiltshire, who heads Citizens for Clean Air in San Marcos, the group that collected the signatures forcing the special election on the initiative.

Wiltshire said that persons who were not committed for or against the trash plant's construction were nonetheless stirred by Klehs' bill because of its seemingly singular purpose of rewriting the San Marcos citizens' initiative. "People were very upset by that. What you've seen is a backlash against NCRRA," Wiltshire said.

But Klehs said his office received only three letters and "a phone call from a professor" in opposition to the bill. "That's hardly a lot of weight," he said.

Wiltshire said his group will now refocus its energies on winning support for the initiative in advance of the April 30 election. The measure, if approved by a simple majority of voters, would establish a city ordinance that would require that a trash plant be approved by two-thirds of the voters in an election, and would require that a plant of similar size be constructed elsewhere in California before it could be built in San Marcos. There is no other such plant.

NCRRA has filed a lawsuit in hopes of having the measure declared illegal. A hearing is scheduled for March 29 in Vista Superior Court.

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