SACRAMENTO — Dewey Disposal Co.'s storage site in El Toro "is just a little yard sitting out in the middle of nowhere," said Eldon Gillespie, chairman of Orange County's trash enforcement agency.
But Orange County Supervisor Bruce Nestande, who represents the area, said that the yard "is an absolute eyesore" and that Gillespie's agency has not done enough to force the owners to tidy it up since he complained several months ago.
Gillespie, mayor of Westminster, which is 15 miles away from the storage site, said his Local Enforcement Agency has been in a low-key but sticky battle with the private firm, which sometimes has 20 to 35 dumpsters stacked on its property on weekends.
Bill Would Allow More Garbage
But the dispute could be ended by a bill nearing final passage in the Legislature. The measure, by Assemblyman Elihu Harris (D-Oakland), would increase the amount of garbage a firm could store on its property without being licensed as a refuse transfer station.
The same bill would limit city and county zoning powers over the location of the so-called transfer stations.
Transfer stations are local sites where public and private refuse haulers can bring loads of garbage to be compacted, sorted and loaded onto larger trucks to be driven to landfills. In Orange County, licensed transfer stations, all privately run, are located in Huntington Beach, Irvine, Stanton and Anaheim.
Local government lobbyists in Sacramento, angered over two recent changes to the bill, are mounting an offensive to kill it. The lobbyists say both provisions were slipped into an otherwise innocuous bill, dealing with pollution standards for waste-to-energy plants, without adequate review or debate.
"We had to get going very quickly," said Craig Labadie, lobbyist for the League of California Cities.
Nestande said the provisions are "a blatant example of trying to circumvent local zoning powers."
Amended in Recent Weeks
Victor Pottorff, who represents the County Supervisors Assn. of California, said it is the circumvention of local authority that his organization finds most objectionable. Both amendments, added to the bill the past few weeks, appear to help narrow special interests, Pottorff charged.
The first amendment, Pottorff charged, appears to be a favor for a Sonoma County refuse firm that could not get local permits for a transfer station it wanted to open. That amendment would delete a requirement in state law that a trash site be consistent with an area's general plan before local agencies gave it a permit.
The other amendment, Pottorff said, appears to aid only Dewey's situation, although it would have statewide application.
The amendment would allow firms to store up 200 cubic yards of garbage--enough to fill six to eight fully loaded, full-sized dumpsters--for up to 48 hours on a site before it would be considered a transfer station.
Neither Harris nor officials of Dewey Co. were available for comment. And Robert Oglesby, the Sacramento lobbyist for Waste Management Inc., the giant Illinois-based firm that owns Dewey Co., said he has had "absolutely no involvement with the bill." Oglesby said he was not even aware of its provisions until a Senate committee consultant mentioned them to him Thursday.
Although Orange County officials have not cited Dewey, the Local Enforcement Agency has been telling the firm for months that it is, in effect, operating the El Toro facility as a "transfer station equivalent."
The facility's permits do not allow it to operate as a trash transfer station.
The way the enforcement agency interprets current law, Gillespie said, any facility storing more than five trash dumpsters should be licensed as a transfer station. Gillespie said he has no problem with the bill's provision that would allow a firm to store more garbage; that way, he said, Dewey would be operating within the law as the county interprets it.
"We're not trying to play God. We're just trying to play sheriff. . . . Whatever they set up as the rules, we'll follow," he said.
Gillespie said that if his tiny agency issues citations under current law, it could result in a prolonged, expensive court fight against Dewey, which is owned by the nation's largest refuse-handling firm.
"If you get into a spitting contest with these guys . . . ," Gillespie said, "they have a lot more money than the county has."