H.B. repeals organic waste ordinance after community group’s lawsuit
Huntington Beach repealed an ordinance this week regarding how organic waste is collected in town in the wake of a community group’s lawsuit over concerns for how the city’s Oak View neighborhood could be affected.
Comunidad, a group that represents communities in Huntington Beach as a project of the nonprofit Mas Fuerte Scholarship Inc., hasn’t decided whether to drop the lawsuit, pending city staff studies of options for a new ordinance, Doran Solis, founder of Mas Fuerte, said Thursday.
The ordinance — adopted in March on a 5-2 City Council vote — called for organic waste such as food to be segregated from other trash at a local waste transfer facility operated by Rainbow Environmental Services.
The ordinance was adopted in response to a California statute that sets an organics recycling schedule for businesses that generate equal to or greater than 8 cubic yards of organic waste per week.
Comunidad sued the city Aug. 12 in Orange County Superior Court, claiming the ordinance could have a significant impact on the Oak View community, where the Rainbow facility is located.
Residents of the largely low-income, Latino neighborhood have long complained about odors emanating from the trash facility, loud operational noises and soot that lands on playground equipment at nearby Oak View Elementary School.
Barbie Iman, a former resident of Oak View and a member of Comunidad, said the city has allowed Rainbow to “add operation after operation without regard to the impact that it has on the community and the schools.”
“The organic waste is especially foul,” she said. “The rotting food is absolutely a concern.”
For the Record: The original version of this article stated incorrectly that Iman is an Oak View resident. In fact, she is a former resident.
Huntington Beach City Attorney Michael Gates said the city repealed the ordinance Monday in hopes of settling with Comunidad.
“The city kind of balanced everything and thought the city doesn’t even need to have the ordinance it prepared on the books as long as the city and [Rainbow] are state-law compliant,” Gates said Thursday. “It was almost not necessary that the ordinance be on the books anyway.”
Many area residents had already joined Oak View Comunidad, an activist group that formed last year and has protested against Rainbow.
Mas Fuerte, which since 2014 has offered more than $25,000 in scholarships to students at Anaheim High School, created Comunidad as a separate group under Mas Fuerte’s umbrella.
Solis, a Huntington Beach resident, said it was time for legal action when the city approved the organic waste add-on at Rainbow in March without doing an environmental impact report.
“I began to see very clearly that the city and Rainbow had zero consideration for the community it impacted and felt strongly that the community needed to rise up and fight them on their own playing field through the legal system,” Solis said.
The Law Clinic at UC Irvine, which Comunidad hired to represent it in the case, contended the city had failed to acknowledge a California Environmental Quality Act requirement for an environmental impact report.
“Our only option was to file a lawsuit to get the environmental impact report done or rescind approval for the services,” Solis said.
Though Iman said she’s happy the ordinance was repealed, she’s concerned that the city didn’t produce an EIR.
A representative of the city Public Works Department could not immediately be reached for comment about why the city didn’t conduct an environmental report or about the possibility of an alternative location for the separation of organic waste.
A representative of Rainbow did not immediately issue a comment.
Gates said it is “not infrequent or uncommon” for an ordinance to be repealed, especially if it echoes state law.
“We’ll just mirror what state law is doing, and that gives us local enforcement ability,” he said. “The parameters that were set forth were done by state law.”
Solis said she considers the repeal a win for Comunidad but that its fight may continue, depending on how the city “handles its recycling of trash and its relationship with Rainbow going forward.”
One of the group’s biggest goals, Solis said, is to get trash trucks, which cause traffic and odors, rerouted.