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Supervisors Seek Last Review of Dump Issue

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

After a spirited debate, Ventura County supervisors agreed Tuesday to conduct a final review of a measure to create a 551-acre landfill in Weldon Canyon before voters decide the issue next March.

A majority of the county board opposes creating a new landfill near Ojai, but elections law requires the supervisors to certify the initiative by Dec. 5. Nevertheless, the supervisors voted 4 to 1 Tuesday to ask county staff to study some of the proposal’s environmental and financial impacts over the next month.

“There are some questions that I would like to have answered for the public,” said Supervisor Maggie Kildee, listing some of her concerns. “If [the landfill] is not successful, what happens?”

Supporters of the landfill have already collected enough signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot.

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Taconic Resources, the San Diego investment firm that launched the initiative drive, wants to build the dump between the cities of Ojai and Ventura to replace the 180-acre Bailard Landfill in Oxnard, which is scheduled to close by next summer.

Environmentalists, most of the supervisors and city leaders from Ojai and Ventura have argued that the county has enough landfill capacity to meet future needs without creating a new dump. Landfill opponents who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting denounced the initiative as an attempt by Taconic Resources to circumvent local government, which has previously rejected the landfill proposal.

“It is nothing more than a devious attempt to manipulate the initiative process in order to enrich Taconic Resources, their associates and the out-of-town investors backing this plan,” Ojai Mayor Nina Shelley said in a prepared statement.

The supervisors said they will instruct county staff to address the following points in studying the landfill proposal:

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* The effect the proposed landfill would have on the county’s ability to meet state recycling regulations that call for local governments to divert an increasing amount of trash away from landfills.

* The landfill’s potential impact on negotiations between different county agencies involved in a countywide trash management plan.

* The environmental impact the landfill could have on the area.

* The future liability to taxpayers regarding cleanup and other costs if the proposed landfill were not financially successful and had to be closed.

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* The county’s ability to control disposal fees and to prevent Taconic Resources from importing trash from other counties. County supervisors have such oversight of operations at the Bailard and Simi Valley landfills.

Frank Schillo, the only supervisor to vote against conducting the study, said he believed the issues that staff would consider appeared to be biased in favor of landfill critics. “I don’t think it’s fair,” he said.

Eloise Brown, a former Moorpark city councilwoman and the local coordinator of the initiative, called the study unnecessary because the county’s concerns will be explained during the initiative campaign, she said.

“None of the [questions] are relevant at this stage,” Brown said after the meeting.

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Brown said she supports a landfill in Weldon Canyon because she does not want additional west county trash trucked to the 1,000-acre Simi Valley Landfill, which would reduce its life span. Brown also said Taconic has pledged to sign an agreement with the county that would set disposal fees and bar the company from importing trash.

Shelley warned that the city of Ojai would consider filing a lawsuit if the landfill measure passes. Taconic attempted to put a similar initiative on last November’s ballot, but a judge ruled the measure was invalid, declaring it “an egregious attempt” by Taconic to sidestep public officials for private gain.

Taconic officials have said they believe the improved wording of the initiative will enable it to survive legal scrutiny. Unlike the last initiative, for example, the new initiative lists a citizen group, not Taconic, as the measure’s sponsor.

Much of Tuesday’s discussion among the supervisors focused on Taconic’s use of professional signature gatherers to qualify the measure for the ballot. After the meeting, Brown said spending more than $100,000 was necessary to begin mobilizing voters countywide.

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But others called the hiring of signature gatherers, many who were not county residents, an abuse of a citizen initiative process.

“That right is being weakened,” complained Supervisor John K. Flynn.


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