A congressman and a state assemblyman who have long been political allies have lashed out at each other in a dispute over how much of a Monterey Park dump site belongs on the federal Superfund list.
Rep. Matthew G. Martinez (D-Monterey Park) has accused Assemblyman Charles M. Calderon (D-Alhambra) of spreading misinformation and acting irresponsibly for political gain. Calderon said Martinez is politically indebted to the owners of the Operating Industries Inc. landfill and is protecting their interests. Each has denied the other's charges.
Both men represent Monterey Park and Montebello, two cities that are locked in a dispute over whether the Operating Industries landfill site that has been nominated for the Superfund list should include 135 acres or 180 acres.
Construction of the Pomona Freeway in the 1960s divided the dump site into two parcels. Most of the 45 acres north of the freeway has never been used for dumping and Martinez supports a plan by the state and the city of Monterey Park to clean up and develop the 45 acres without federal assistance. They say a Superfund listing would kill the redevelopment project.
But Calderon sides with the city of Montebello, which borders the dump, and with regional officials of the Environmental Protection Agency who say the 45 acres should be placed on the Superfund list until more is known about the site. The Superfund list establishes priority for federal cleanup of toxic waste. The final decision on whether to leave the Operating Industries' listing at 180 acres, incorporating property on both sides of the freeway, or to exclude the 45-acre parcel will be made by EPA officials in Washington.
The charges and countercharges are being traded by two Democrats who have supported each other in the past, maintain district offices in the same Montebello building, represent some of the same cities, and share the services of George Pla, who manages both of their political campaigns.
Pla described the conflict as a family squabble and said that he has undertaken "shuttle diplomacy," going back and forth in telephone conversations with the two men in an effort to resolve their differences.
But Calderon said Tuesday that he does not see how he can support the reelection of Martinez this year. And Martinez replied: "I don't depend on his support to get elected."
Pla said the disagreement is unlikely to affect the men politically because both are well entrenched in districts that are heavily Democratic.
But Calderon said Martinez "is going to have his hands full" running for reelection. Calderon, who was reelected to the Assembly in 1984 with 64% of the vote, noted that Martinez had a much closer race that year, winning by 9 percentage points in a district in which Democrats outnumber Republicans more than 2 to 1. Calderon said that he has never endorsed a Republican and doubts that he would do so against Martinez, but that "strange things sometimes happen."
The Superfund listing of Operating Industries' 135 acres south of the freeway is supported by Calderon, Martinez and all the other local, regional and state agencies involved with the site.
The disputed 45 acres north of the freeway contains 6.5 acres that were used as a municipal dump from 1948 to 1952. A developer who is working with the Monterey Park redevelopment agency wants to buy the property and put several auto dealerships, office buildings, restaurants and retail stores on the site, but has said that a Superfund listing would kill the project because of liability problems.
Martinez said sale of the 45-acre parcel to the developer would produce more than $7 million, which would go into a trust fund for cleanup of the 135-acre dump. Without the sale, state health officials have said, Operating Industries Inc. would probably declare bankruptcy, delaying cleanup on both sides of the freeway and increasing the cost to taxpayers.
(In what was described in news reports as an important environmental ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court held Monday on a 5-4 vote that states may prevent bankrupt firms from evading the cost of toxic waste cleanups by abandoning the sites.)
Calderon contends that a history of illegal dumping in the area makes it difficult to know what is on the 45 acres, but the city's own reports show lead, organic compounds and other contaminants. Regional EPA officials have suggested a two-year study to fully analyze the property.
But Martinez said $400,000 has already been spent on analysis, environmental studies and engineering work. State health officials have concluded that the developer can clean up the site without federal assistance.
In a press release denouncing Calderon's assertions about the site, Martinez said, "To spread half-truths and innuendo to thwart this project does not serve the best interests of both communities, and the political exploitation of this problem is absolutely unconscionable."