A Question of Priorities : Why do landfill opponents care so much about Elsmere and so little about Chiquita?

You can file this one under the heading "A Tale of Two Landfills." The message it seems to send is fairly simple: The concerns of some communities simply aren't very important.

One of the dumps we will consider is the Chiquita Canyon Landfill, just inside the Los Angeles County line near the unincorporated, rural community of Val Verde. The other--Elsmere Canyon--hasn't even been built yet and won't be, if many of those who oppose it have their say.

The big decisions on both of these efforts are several months away at the least. The issue with Chiquita Canyon is whether to extend its life and greatly increase its size. The issue with Elsmere is whether to open it at all. Neither site is within the boundaries of the city of Santa Clarita, but here is where the vast differences begin.

The fight against Elsmere Canyon might become unprecedented in terms of effort and scope. It has attracted legislation in both houses of Congress that would disallow the use of federal lands as part of the landfill site. The city of Santa Clarita has already spent $1.5 million in an anti-Elsmere effort that has included the lobbying of newspaper editorial pages. The city has even assigned one of its top administrators to work full time on the Elsmere campaign.

What about Chiquita Canyon and its neighbors? Well, this quote from Santa Clarita Mayor Jo Anne Darcy just about sums it up: "We can't fight the whole world here." So far, that means no effort at all on behalf of the opponents of Chiquita Canyon.

Pat Saletore of the Santa Clarita Valley chapter of the Sierra Club opposes both landfill projects, but she explains her focus on Elsmere in this way: "Elsmere is more seductive. It's got waterfalls and it's in the Angeles National Forest." She added that she couldn't devote time to Chiquita Canyon because "you can't expect to throw yourself into two things like that and live."

Local business leaders are emphatically opposed to Elsmere, but consider Chiquita the best alternative among several unfortunate choices for trash.

We are not here today to pass judgment on either landfill proposal. The jury is still out on both counts. We are here to suggest that elected officials, environmentalists and business leaders pause for a moment. It's time to ask whether their collective shoulder shrug about Chiquita Canyon simply reinforces the sense that poor, working-class, minority communities are on their own when it comes to dump sites.

Val Verde, for example, was a 41-year-old, African-American community that is now multiethnic, though predominantly Latino. The concerns and fears of its residents deserve better than a reply of, "Sorry, we have more important matters to attend to."

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