Board Will Place Dump Initiative on March Ballot : Weldon Canyon: Supervisors have little choice in regard to the already qualified measure seeking a new landfill. But they are expected to delay certification to study proposal.
Although a majority of Ventura County supervisors strongly oppose a Weldon Canyon dump, they will have little choice but to place an already qualified landfill initiative on the March 26 countywide ballot.
Still, board members said they will probably vote Tuesday to postpone certification of the ballot measure for 30 days. This will give the county time to study the financial and environmental impacts of the initiative and possibly hold a public hearing to discuss the findings.
“I think all the information we can gather is going to be good for the public,” said Supervisor Susan K. Lacey, who represents the area between Ventura and Ojai where the dump would be built. “Maybe we’ll find another way to deal with this issue.”
Taconic Resources, the San Diego investment firm behind the dump proposal, spent more than $100,000 on professional signature gatherers to help qualify its initiative for the spring ballot. Taconic wants to build a new west county dump to replace Bailard Landfill in Oxnard, set to close next year.
The supervisors now have the option of either adopting the measure as law, placing it on the ballot or conducting a study of the initiative before taking any action.
Like Lacey, Supervisors Frank Schillo and John K. Flynn agree that a study on the initiative might be helpful in providing the board with more information about the potential consequences of the project and that they would probably support such a report.
But the two said that they see no benefit in holding a public hearing. They said the result would simply be dozens of Ojai Valley residents showing up to speak out against the landfill as they have done all along.
“I’m not interested in being beaten over the head with this,” Schillo said. “I don’t want the Board of Supervisors sitting there for six hours listening to people vent. For what purpose? It’s going on the ballot. The electorate is going to vote on it.”
Rather than a public hearing, Flynn said he would prefer that the board hold a news conference to discuss the report’s findings.
But a representative of the Coalition to Stop Weldon Canyon, an Ojai-based citizens group, said that a public hearing would go a long way toward educating voters about specifics of the landfill project.
“We don’t want the public hearing just so people can stand up and say we don’t want the dump,” said Michael Shapiro, a coalition member. “We want it because it’s the only way voters are going to hear about what the initiative actually does.”
Shapiro said most voters are unaware, for example, that the initiative does not prevent Taconic from importing trash from outside the county. He said it also would allow Taconic to set its own disposal rates.
“This would grant them special privileges,” Shapiro said. “We believe this is an incredible abuse of the initiative process.”
Richard Chase, a general partner of Taconic, said that the firm recently sent a letter to each supervisor stating its willingness to negotiate a legally binding agreement that would prohibit Taconic from importing trash from outside the county. He said Taconic also expressed its desire to work out an agreement on disposal fees and other issues.
“We would be willing to sign a legal commitment with the county,” Chase said. “We have no problem with that.”
Chase said Taconic also had no objections to the county taking a month to study the impacts of the initiative. But like Schillo and Flynn, Chase said he saw no point in holding a public hearing.
“We’re going to have the mother of all public hearings on this issue,” he said. “It’s called an election. There will be plenty of time for people to speak out before then.”
Lacey questioned the value of signing an agreement with Taconic. She pointed out that the investment firm could easily turn around and sell its interest in the project should the landfill initiative pass.
“Having an agreement is a nice idea,” she said. “But what good is it if we can’t hold them to it?”
This is the second time that Taconic has attempted to go around the supervisors to get voter approval for its project.
Taconic spent more than $335,000 to place a similar landfill initiative on last November’s ballot. But a Superior Court judge declared the measure invalid, saying it was “an egregious attempt” by Taconic to grab power away from public officials for private gain.
Chase said the language in the new initiative has been tightened to withstand a legal challenge. Taconic’s name is not mentioned this time, a critical legal correction, he said.
Meanwhile, Shapiro said that if the landfill initiative is approved that his coalition would seriously considering filing a lawsuit to block its implementation.