Landfill Contract Riles Spitzer


An angry Supervisor Todd Spitzer blasted the county staff Friday after learning that a contract to study landfills at El Toro Marine Corps Air Station will cost three times what supervisors have been told.

“The magnitude of this deception is more overwhelming than I had imagined,” Spitzer said. “Who is giving orders and who is taking responsibility for these actions being taken?”

Under pressure from Spitzer and Supervisor Tom Wilson, who both oppose an airport at El Toro, county officials acknowledged earlier this week that a mistake was made when they hired the firm Geo Syntec without consulting the board.

The contract with the firm is expected to be debated at Tuesday’s board meeting.


Earlier this week, County Counsel Laurence Watson told supervisors that the contract, which staff had approved, would cost between $75,000 to $100,000.

However, the contract that Watson will present to the board Tuesday shows the total cost to hire the firm is $230,000.

Watson said Wednesday that signing the contract with Geo Syntec without approval from the board could have violated the county’s procurement policy. Any contract of more than $25,000 must be brought before the Board of Supervisors, according to the county’s procurement policy.

Watson could not be reached for comment Friday night.


Wilson, who could not be reached for comment on the price jump, earlier criticized the bypassing of the board.

“We have procedures and policy in place,” Wilson said. “These violations will be dealt with accordingly.”

But Supervisor Charles V. Smith, a strong airport backer, played down the issue, saying he did not think county staff did anything wrong when they hired the firm, nor was he critical of the cost.

“As far as I’m concerned, it needs to be brought before the Board of Supervisors because of the increase in cost, not because of the contract with the subcontractor,” Smith said. “We don’t select the subcontractor.”

The consultants were hired through a contract extension with the law firm McCutchen, Doyle, Brown & Enerson, which reviews landfill-related legal issues for the county. Geo Syntec consultants charge $159 an hour.

The federal government is responsible for all environmental cleanup at the base and will monitor the progress at contaminated sites for 15 to 20 years, military officials said. But once Marines turn the land over to the county in July 1999, the county could be held liable if environmental hazards are found, county officials said.

Military officials do not plan to bore for samples of landfill content, fearing that it could cause contaminants to leak outside of the landfill area, Capt. Matt Morgan, a base spokesman, said.

The military proposes to cap the two landfills with 4 feet of earth.


Lorenza Munoz can be reached at (714) 966-5989 or by e-mail at