A county landfill in the Third District? In Bonny Doon? On Thayer Road perhaps?


The RBDA Board offers this page to the community as a way of clearing the air about the recent landfill issue. Answers are all from Supervisor Wormhoudt. 

If you have questions or concerns relating to the process that led to the landfill issue (or any other issue, for that matter) that you would like to have addressed by the RBDA or by County officials, please click here and send your thoughts in an email. 

To Supervisor Mardi Wormhoudt:

Q: 1.  Please explain/clarify to the Bonny Doon community how the Supervisor's office might have better communicated and prepared them about the Task Force, the Citizen's Advisory Group ( CAG) and the proposed dump sites which were proposed for Bonny Doon.

A: Before directly answering this question, it might be helpful to describe the history of the landfill site selection process.

The Integrated Waste Management Local Task Force (Task Force) was originally established to encourage cooperation among the local jurisdictions in the area c solid waste. It is composed of two members representing the County, two members representing the City of Santa Cruz, two members representing the City of Watsonville, one member representing the City of Scotts Valley, one member representing the City of Capitola, and one public member appointed by the Board of Supervisors. The Task Force meets quarterly and has been involved in a number of issues related to waste management, particularly in the area of recycling.

When the remaining life of a landfill reaches 15 years, State law requires that the agency in charge of the landfill begin a process for replacing that facility. Despite the increase in recycling in the community and the fact that the waste stream to the landfill has been reduced by about 50%, the County hit that 15 year point at the Buena Vista landfill a year or so ago.

The Task Force was given the responsibility to oversee the landfill replacement process and it was agreed that a cooperative effort between the cities and the County was the best approach. However, since the Task Force is a policy body, it was thought that a citizens group might be the most appropriate body to work with staff to come up with an initial list of possible landfill sites.

The Board of Supervisors then established the Citizen’s Advisory Group (CAG) and appointed members representing not only the cities and the County, but the environmental and the agricultural communities.

The release of the CAG report containing 24 potential sites, with three on the north coast including the one in Bonny Doon, triggered the time when my office could first have communicated to the Bonny Doon community that sites in their area were under consideration.

While in retrospect I think that notification should have occurred at that time, there were a number of reasons why this didn’t happen.

First of all, the Task Force discussed a number of times whether residents near the potential sites should be directly notified that these sites were under consideration. It was decided not to do this because most of the sites would be eliminated before any detailed technical analysis would occur, and the process of technical review would be long and provide many opportunities for participation.

My reasoning was somewhat different. Based on an understanding of the Coastal Act and the County’s recent unsuccessful experience seeking Coastal Commission approval of a proposal to store dirt temporarily on a small site across from the existing landfill, it was very clear that the Coastal Commission would never approve a landfill anywhere in the Coastal Zone. Since all three north coast sites are in the Coastal Zone, they just were not viable. Even though the Task Force was unwilling to eliminate them on this basis when requested to do so, there still was no question that they would ultimately be found not viable.

Given this, it seemed unnecessary and even undesirable to cause north coast residents upset and anxiety when there really wasn’t a cause. This is especially true as specific notification could have affected property sales as it would have led to the need to disclose the existence of potential landfill sites.

However, to directly answer the question, my office could have communicated with the Bonny Doon community regarding the existence of the potential north coast landfill sites any time after the release of the CAG report and I should have done so.

Q: 2.  Some of us understand that there are "politics" involved that require counties to demonstrate that they have gone through all the necessary steps required to locate a new landfill before that county can report, for example, "Sorry, no feasible locations to be found," and begin looking at hauling its trash out of county.  Is this true?

A: I don’t think this is the case. As I understand it, a county is required to start planning for the replacement of a landfill when the remaining life of the existing landfill reaches 15 years. The Task Force began by looking at in-county landfill options based on the staff recommendation and the fact that it seemed like the most natural place to start. It seemed logical that an in-county landfill would probably be cheaper than shipping the garbage out of county.

Despite this direction, however, it is also true that Public Works staff had been directed by the Board of Supervisors to investigate non-landfill alternatives and they have been doing this during the time that the landfill analysis process was underway. I'm not aware of any legal or "political" requirement that landfill sites be investigated and found infeasible first.

And you think the Lonestar quarry makes a lot of noise?
Andy Schiffrin is Supervisor Wormhoudt’s assistant and was her representative on the Task Force charged with identifying possible new dump site locations. Many in the Bonny Doon community believe that Mr. Schiffrin was on the Task Force not only to ensure that it followed the correct process and pursued its mandate to identify possible dump sites, but to represent the interests of the constituents in the Third District, which includes Bonny Doon as well.

Q: 3.  a.)  Mr. Schiffrin, why were Bonny Dooners given a "tip" from ananonymous out-of-county source rather than a timely notification from your office regarding the inclusion of the Thayer Road parcels as possible sites? (Other communities were informed so much earlier and had more time to organize a response).

A: As mentioned above, while it was a mistake based on the conviction that the Thayer Road, as with all the Coastal Zone sites, was not viable, Andy Schiffrin and I decided that no special notification of Bonny Doon residents would occur.

Also, the Task Force had agreed not to directly notify residents and property owners near the potential sites at this time. While it is certainly true that other communities found out about sites in their area and became involved, the Task Force did not initiate this. Moreover, until the September 2, 2004, meeting, the Task Force had been unwilling to eliminate any sites, except for one that had an agricultural easement on it.

Q: 3.  b.)  Mr. Schiffrin, why did you wait until 10 o’clock in the evening at the Sept. 2nd meeting at the Mello Center before you advocated removing the Thayer Road site in Bonny Doon from the list, long after other sites had been removed ?

A: At the beginning of the meeting, the Task Force agreed to wait until after the public testimony before taking any actions. However, after about 15 minutes of testimony, one of the Task Force members suddenly made a motion, which was seconded, to stop any further work on all of the potential sites and to focus on the analysis of alternatives. While Andy Schiffrin supported making the consideration of alternatives the first priority, he did not think it was right for residents and property owners adjacent to non-viable sites to be kept in limbo. Under the motion, none of the sites would have been eliminated, they just would have been put on the back burner.

Since the staff had recommended, based on their analysis, that ten of the sites be dropped and Andy doubted that any public testimony would argue to keep these sites, he thought it was important to at least drop these from the list as part of the motion. Beyond this, he thought it was appropriate to stick with the Task Force decision to wait until the public testimony was completed before proposing additional actions. That’s why he waited until after the time for public testimony to support eliminating the remaining sites, including the Thayer Road site.

Where are all the seagulls?

  Q: 4) What are the general reasons, mechanics and protocols of a Citizen's Advisory Group and the Task Force? And what were some specifics of this particular process, its mandate, history, and timetable. Was it on target? Did the process work? 

A: I think the answer to your first question, regarding the history of the landfill alternatives process, responds to most of these questions, at least in brief. In terms of the timetable, the process was seen as taking several years and my sense is that it was pretty much on target.

The question regarding whether the process worked is more difficult to answer. If the goal of the process was to select a new landfill in the County, then I think it is pretty clear that the process was not successful. However, if the goal was to have a public process to investigate the feasibility of finding a new landfill site, then I think the process did work and, in fact, saved the County a good deal of money.

The staff approach was to keep sites on the list even if they might turn out to be infeasible, if they met certain criteria. However, because the process was public, members of the public, as well as other agencies, were able to submit a great deal of technical information that advanced the understanding of the sites beyond what was anticipated. This evidence clearly indicated, at least to me, that none of the sites on the list would be viable. By eliminating them at this time, which is what the Task Force did, it accelerated the process of finding an alternative and saved the County the expense of hiring technical consultants who would have provided similar information. So, in terms of moving the County in the direction of finding a feasible solution, I think the process did work.

I hope these answers are sufficient. If more information is desired, I’d be happy to provide it.


Third District
October 5, 2004

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