Following a public hearing that lasted nearly two hours, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously decided to move forward with expanding the Chiquita Canyon Landfill in the Santa Clarita Valley.
Environmental activists and residents had opposed a new permit, hoping to see the facility shut down for good.
“Landfills are … unhealthy for the people that live next to them, and they’re unhealthy for the entire Los Angeles region,” said Lynne Plambeck of the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and Environment, one of four civic groups that filed formal appeals to the permit. “The promise to the community and to the people that depend on this board was not kept.”
The landfill, located in the semi-rural community of Val Verde, began operating in 1972. After a protracted fight, its operators and community members reached an agreement 25 years later that allowed for an expansion — but included a provision that Chiquita Canyon would close when it reached 23 million tons of waste or in November of 2019, whichever occurred first.
Last year, as the landfill was about to reach that limit, owner Waste Connections Inc. quietly obtained a waiver from the county that allowed the dump to stay open while it pursued a new permit for another expansion.
However, the company appealed the terms of the proposed expansion permit on the grounds that the county was imposing overly burdensome waste limits and operating fees.
“Chiquita is a basic component of the county’s infrastructure,” said Mike Dean, division vice president of Waste Connections. “We must be sized properly and charged fairly.”
On Tuesday, more than 50 people weighed in at the hearing.
Industry and business representatives called Chiquita Canyon a “model landfill” that contributes to the local economy and serves a necessary function. Environmental and civic activists criticized the board as capitulating to corporate interests at the expense of residents’ health. One nine-year-old told the supervisors that poor air quality in the area had caused her asthma attacks.
At the end of public comments, Supervisor Kathryn Barger — whose district includes Chiquita Canyon — introduced a compromise motion that she said “makes considerable concessions to ensure our communities are protected and receive maximum benefit while ensuring that a well-run landfill keeps its gate open for business.”
Barger received $4,500 in campaign contributions from Waste Connections in 2015 and 2016. The public relations firm that represents the landfill also gave her $2,500 in 2015 and 2016.
The motion declared the board’s intent to approve the project, with requirements that Waste Connections hire a consultant to continuously monitor air quality in locations immediately surrounding the landfill, establish a hotline for complaints and turn the site into a park after it closes.
In addition, the compromise reduces the fees the company will have to pay the county for waste that it processes from outside the Santa Clarita Valley. The company will still have to give the county treasurer and tax collector 10% of its tipping fees, as well as other fees collected by the Department of Public Works.
Under the new permit, the dump will be required to close when it reaches 60 million tons or after 30 years, whichever occurs first.
“Whatever agreements there were in the past, this will be the final chapter in the story,” Barger said.
Plambeck was skeptical.
“They said last time it would be closed,” the activist said after the hearing. “Why would we believe them this time?”