It is the least palatable of issues. Like a whiff of week-old garbage, it has historically prompted elected officials to turn up their noses in disdain.
But, like it or not, trash--or, more specifically, what to do about it--is a hot topic in San Diego County these days, especially in the region's northern reaches, where booming growth has combined with dwindling landfill space to create a pressing problem.
Now, local officials from cities throughout the North County have joined to take their first tentative steps toward finding a solution to the area's growing trash troubles.
Spurred by Encinitas Mayor Marjorie Gaines, the community leaders have begun toying with the prospect of forming a region-wide agency to oversee the selection of a site for a landfill to handle the mounting flood of trash being produced by North County residents.
The group first met in August and, since then, the City Councils in Escondido, Del Mar, Encinitas and Solana Beach have offered support for the proposal. Yet another organizational meeting is set for Wednesday.
Financed by Bonds
As Gaines and others see it, a joint-powers authority could be established to run the dump. The agency would sell bonds to finance purchase of a site and then pay off those costs with fees collected from the municipal and private garbage collectors that use the landfill. Aside from acting as a trash dump, the site could serve as a state-of-the-art recycling center, they say.
With the North County's prime landfill, located in San Marcos, expected to be filled to capacity by 1991, Gaines and other area leaders contend the time to act in now.
Moreover, they grouse that San Diego County officials, who are empowered to handle the region's trash matters, are moving too slowly to select a site for a new dump in the north. A joint-powers authority established by North County cities could work swiftly, they say, perhaps even opening a dump within two years.
"We could take a little bit of the burden away from the county, assume the responsibility ourselves and plan a project that's compatible for North County," Gaines said. "The county keeps on spinning out figures like seven years to site a new landfill. They've delayed long enough. Now we've been placed in a position with our backs to the wall."
Nonetheless, the proposal does not enjoy universal support.
Among the opponents to Gaines' idea are backers of a trash-to-energy plant planned on land at the San Marcos dump. They contend Gaines is pushing her plan simply as an 11th-hour effort to shoot down the trash plant proposal, which goes before San Marcos voters on Tuesday.
"I'm very suspicious about the motives behind Marge's proposal," said San Marcos Mayor Lee Thibadeau, a staunch supporter of the trash-to-energy plant. "I have a feeling it's being pressed by opponents of the plant who want to botch the election, to create another cloud."
But Gaines and others say a new landfill will soon be needed in North County, whatever the fate of the San Marcos trash plant. Even with the plant in place, the San Marcos landfill is still expected to reach capacity by the mid-1990s because of the ash and non-combustible garbage that must be dumped.
"This is not an either/or situation," Gaines said. "A landfill has to be found, even if there is a trash-to-energy plant."
With that in mind, county officials are studying a plan to expand the San Marcos dump into a canyon stretching south from the existing site. But that expansion plan has Gaines concerned. If enacted, it would put the dump precariously close to the Encinitas community of Olivenhain, where the mayor and her family live.
Moreover, Gaines says she worries about the effects of the expanded dump on Copper Creek, which empties into the environmentally sensitive San Elijo Lagoon.
"I think anyone who lives in Olivenhain, or La
Costa, or Elfin Forest, or Lake San Marcos, anyone who lives close to the area they're talking about has a big stake in it," Gaines said. "And I'm certainly one of those."
Though the group being formed by Gaines has yet to take steps to formally establish a joint-powers authority, several city leaders have begun pointing to potential sites for a landfill.
Chief among them is Keys Canyon, a 1,000-acre parcel north of San Marcos near the eastern edge of Interstate 15. With its high canyon walls, acres of undeveloped land and close proximity to the freeway, the site has many of the right ingredients for a landfill, Gaines and others say.
Residents in the area, however, are opposed to the idea of a dump near their homes, saying the canyon is an environmentally sensitive region that deserves to be preserved as is.