Nudging the Weldon Canyon landfill proposal closer to likely defeat, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday rejected a request by the landfill's operator to postpone hearings on the controversial project.
The supervisors voted 4 to 1 to deny the request by Waste Management of North America for a six-month postponement, delighting the more than 300 landfill opponents who packed the meeting room.
The supervisors' decision returns the landfill proposal to the county Planning Commission for a public hearing July 22. The proposal will then go back to the supervisors in August for a final vote, and opponents believe that they now have enough votes on the board to kill the project.
"We were pretty sure this was going to be the outcome, but it was wonderful to see it actually happen," said Doris Black, a Ventura resident and member of the Coalition to Stop Weldon Canyon Dump.
"To be totally frank, we were expecting to win from the day the Planning Commission invented this continuance," coalition member John Nava said. The group hopes to meet with the supervisors to ensure the ultimate defeat of the project, he added. "We don't want their commitment to be co-opted by any latecomers," he said.
Supervisors Susan K. Lacey, Maria VanderKolk and Maggie Kildee, who have said they oppose the landfill, were joined by Supervisor John K. Flynn in denying the postponement.
Flynn previously supported the delay and advised Waste Management to seek the postponement. He said he changed his mind after talking to county waste officials and landfill opponents.
"I came in today not really knowing how I would vote," Flynn told the standing-room-only crowd. "Now I have to say I don't see any reason for the delay and I'm asking the leaders in the county to work to find a solution to our waste problem."
Supervisor Vicky Howard cast the lone vote to grant the delay. Howard has repeatedly expressed concerns about trash from western Ventura County ending up in the landfill in Simi Valley once Bailard Landfill in Oxnard closes. Bailard, which handles most of the west county's trash, is scheduled to shut down in December.
"If we make the wrong decision about solid-waste disposal, it could cost the county a lot of money," she said. "A rush to judgment is the wrong thing to do at this time."
Shull Bonsall, who owns the 6,500-acre canyon at the mouth of the Ojai Valley, said he was bitter about the board's decision to deny the delay after eight years of wrangling over the project.
"Every time the opposition asked for a delay, the board said yes," Bonsall said. "If the board had said no to them, we wouldn't be in this mess."
Last month, the Planning Commission granted Waste Management a six-month delay before it conducted its hearings on the landfill proposal.
But the city of Ojai and the Coalition to Stop Weldon Canyon Dump immediately appealed the decision to the Board of Supervisors.
Tuesday's vote by the supervisors nullified the commission's decision, sending the proposal back to the commission for a public hearing and a recommendation for adoption or rejection.
The Planning Commission will focus on a staff report that favored the dump's approval provided that the landfill be reduced to one-third of its originally proposed size. Furthermore, the staff suggested that all of the trash be concentrated in the northern end of the canyon, the farthest spot from neighbors in Casitas Springs.
If the landfill proposal is defeated, representatives of Waste Management said they have no plans to ask the county to pay back the $13 million the company has spent so far on the project's plans, design work and environmental studies.
"We would like to participate in whatever the future plans are for waste disposal in the county," said Michael E. Williams, who oversees the company's Ventura County operations. "We're hoping to recover the funds that way."
The proposed Weldon Canyon landfill is scheduled to return to the Ventura County Planning Commission for a public hearing at 8:30 a.m. July 22. The hearing will be held in the Board of Supervisors' chambers at the County Government Center, 800 Victoria Ave., Ventura. After the hearing, the commission will then recommend to the supervisors whether the landfill should be approved or rejected.