A dozen or so families in the Elfin Forest neighborhood who are neighbors to the San Marcos landfill--the only large trash dump in North San Diego County--have been waiting and wishing for the facility to reach capacity. Then, they believed, the dump would be covered and turned into a park.
Their wish is expected to come true by next July--but its fulfillment has turned against them.
Instead of closing the dump by July, 1991, county public works staffers are now racing the clock, working overtime to expand the landfill so it will accommodate the North County's discards for the next 10 or 11 years. In the process, the county is offering--in some cases demanding--to buy the homes of neighbors who have waited for the end of clattering trash trucks and pungent garbage smells.
"It's not fair," said Evelyn Alemanni, one of the landfill's beleaguered neighbors. "They promised us that when the dump was full they would turn it into an open space park.
"We've been waiting and waiting for that day to come, hanging on to that promise. Now, instead, they are going to build a trash pile 20 stories high right next to us and expand the landfill right into our community, right across Elfin Forest Road."
She laughs when she calls the county's "vertical expansion" of the present landfill "Mt. Trashmore" and refers to the 230-acre "horizontal expansion" as "Rancho Basura" (Spanish for garbage), but the laugh is hollow and no smile goes with it.
Alemanni's home is within the proposed expansion area--part of a proposed buffer zone to separate the Elfin Forest from the active landfill. The county Board of Supervisors, which in 1979 promised residents that they would turn the landfill into a park when it was filled, now is offering to buy Joe and Evelyn Alemanni's home and land at fair market value.
County supervisors are looking for a new landfill site in North San Diego County but choosing and preparing one will take several more years. The San Marcos landfill was supposed to be usable for the next several years, but because of rapid growth in the North County, it filled up sooner than expected.
For Robert Haberman, who came from Illinois and bought a home in the secluded valley 4 1/2 years ago, the future is bleak.
Haberman and owners of two new estate homes do not have the choice that the Alemannis and a dozen other homeowners have. He must sell his California dream home for the price an independent appraiser names or face condemnation and a court fight.
"If they don't get me out of this in a stylish fashion, I'll fight," Haberman said of the county's as-yet-undisclosed offer for his house. "Like the guy in that movie, 'I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more.' "
But, he admits, whatever the price, he'll miss the silent nights after the bulldozers have shut down. He'll also miss the 200 or so quail that dine on his hillside.
"I love the location, I love this house, I love feeding the birds. I thought we could hang in here forever until this came along. So much for the economic dreams one has of living in Southern California."
For Jim and Marcie Malloy, leaving their three-acre plant nursery is unthinkable, but the thought of staying is just as bad.
"We've spent five years, six days a week, building up our business. I don't think we've been away from here together for more than three days since we started," Jim Malloy said.
"This is not just our home, it's our livelihood," he said.
The Malloys don't have to sell their house, although the county will offer to buy it. But Marcie Malloy is concerned about the mound of trash that will rise 200 feet higher over their land in coming years.
For those within the buffer zone, the 950-foot-high landfill level approved two weeks ago by county supervisors will cut afternoon and evening light from the west, not to mention cutting out sunsets.
"We've already had problems with freezing in the low-lying areas," Marcie Malloy said. "Losing sunlight, even 15 minutes of it a day, could be a disaster."
Jim Magee, a principal civil engineer, said that the open-ended offer to buy out all but the three homeowners closest to the landfill was a humane gesture proposed by the county Board of Supervisors.
"We don't want a few people 'paying' for what is a public facility--paying by being adversely impacted," Magee explained. "The public should pay for acquiring their properties at fair market value and that is what we are planning to do, if they want to sell."
And what will happen to the homes that the county acquires? Magee isn't sure yet, but he figures that when the expanded landfill is full--in about 10 years from now--the county will probably put most of the property up for sale. "None of the land is to be used for actual landfill operations," Magee said of the Elfin Forest properties. "When the landfill is closed, it will be turned into some sort of a park by the city of San Marcos."
To a person, the property owners who have a choice are undecided as to what they are going to do. But they do plan to go on fighting to overturn the county's decision to expand the San Marcos landfill.
Marcie Malloy can't decide if she can stand another 10 years of dust seeping under her closed windows, of the constant roar of trash trucks and the growl of bulldozers seven days a week, of the shuddering roar of blasting and the cloying smell of overripe garbage.
"We're not the only ones affected," she said. "It's the whole valley and more: the heavy trucks on our roads, the trash that they scatter along the roadside, the mud they track out of the dump that makes the road dangerous for all of us, the accidents that happen almost every week and the views of the Pacific Ocean that will be lost as the pile of trash grows higher.
"I think that they should honor the promise that they made to us 10 years ago and close the dump, and find someplace else to put the dump that is not in someone else's back yard."