In a move that promises to reignite tensions between eastern and western Ventura County officials, the company pushing a proposed Weldon Canyon landfill launched another effort Tuesday to bypass the county Board of Supervisors and put the issue before voters.
Former Moorpark City Councilwoman Eloise Brown filed a petition on behalf of Taconic Resources of Del Mar so the company can begin collecting signatures to place the landfill measure on the March 26 ballot.
“We don’t want west county trash coming to the Simi Valley landfill,” said Brown, who has teamed with the San Diego County developer. “Trash that comes from the west has to come through Moorpark or Thousand Oaks to get to the Simi Valley. I’m always concerned about truck traffic through Moorpark.”
The proposed ballot initiative received a chilly reception from county leaders who have spent years wrestling with trash-disposal issues, including the decade-long proposals to build the dump in the canyon between Ventura and Ojai.
“To try to resurrect Weldon again would be too hard on the people in the Ojai Valley,” Supervisor John K. Flynn said. “We simply don’t need the divisiveness, the warfare and the combativeness.”
Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Maggie Kildee said the county has no need for the proposed Weldon Canyon dump.
“If Weldon comes to pass, it will become a repository for trash from outside of the county, because we don’t need it for in-county trash,” Kildee said. “The only reason someone is doing this is because they are going to get rich, or at least think they are.”
This is the second time that Taconic Resources has attempted a ballot initiative on the proposed Weldon Canyon landfill after failing to win the support of a majority of county supervisors two years ago.
Taconic spent about $335,000 in its campaign to place the landfill issue on last November’s ballot. But a judge declared the initiative invalid before the election, saying it was an “egregious attempt” to grab power from public officials for private gain.
Richard Chase, general partner of Taconic, said lawyers in San Diego and Ventura counties have spent weeks drafting the initiative so it cannot be stopped in court. He said they even tapped the expertise of a high-powered San Francisco law firm that specializes in drafting initiatives.
“We have learned from the technical, drafting errors that were made last year,” Chase said. “I predict that the Ojai people will sue and I anticipate that they will lose.”
Neil Levine, an attorney with the Environmental Defense Center, said he has not had time to scrutinize Taconic’s new initiative for legal flaws. But he said there may be a need to galvanize public support against the initiative in case the measure ends up on the ballot.
Michael Shapiro, a director of the Coalition to Stop Weldon Canyon Dump, said most county residents would vote against a big landfill that would end up taking trash from communities throughout southern and central California.
“People don’t want Ventura County to become the trash bin for the Western Pacific region,” he said. “That’s why investors are moving forward. It is a vicious and cruel game being played out by investors, many of whom don’t live in Ventura County.”
But Brown and some other eastern county officials favor the proposed Weldon Canyon dump so that west county cities could have a site for their daily loads of trash once the Bailard Landfill near Oxnard closes next year.
“Trash has been on an eastward flow for years and I think it is time that there be a location on both the east and west side of the county,” said Brown, who has assumed the role of spokeswoman for the ballot initiative.
West county leaders recently solicited proposals from trash haulers and landfill operators to determine a destination for their communities’ trash after Bailard closes.
“There are landfills in other counties in California and Washington and Utah that would like our business,” Ojai Mayor Nina Shelley said. She predicted that the newly formed Western Ventura County Waste Management Authority will come up with a trash-disposal solution and then show how a Weldon Canyon dump is not needed and not wanted.
“The city will do whatever is reasonably necessary to fight this thing,” she said of the proposed ballot measure. “We have spent too much time and too much anguish to stop at this point.”
To qualify for the ballot, Taconic must collect 22,215 signatures of registered voters in Ventura County and turn them into the elections office by Sept. 28, said Bruce Bradley, the county’s election chief.
Signature gathering cannot begin for another three weeks, while the Ventura County counsel writes a summary of the ballot initiative and Taconic publishes the legal language in a general circulation newspaper.
Chase said he will use a combination of volunteers and paid personnel to gather the signatures in the six weeks preceding the Sept. 28 deadline. He said he has not figured out the budget and has not hired a firm to conduct the signature drive.