SACRAMENTO — Assemblywoman Cathie Wright (R-Simi Valley) says she is perplexed about why a federal grand jury subpoenaed records on a 1985 bill she introduced to allow state waste officials to override local opposition to new dump sites.
"I have no idea why they would pick that bill," Wright said. "All I can remember is that we dropped it. What was the big deal?"
The measure, which died in committee, was among at least seven bills subpoenaed last Friday by federal authorities, apparently in connection with an investigation of Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) and his relationship with one of his private legal clients, Norcal Solid Waste Systems Inc., a San Francisco-based garbage disposal company.
One source familiar with the case indicated that Wright is not a target of the investigation.
In an interview this week, Wright said Brown never discussed the legislation with her. "I was unaware that he was involved with trash in any way," she said.
Wright, whose district includes portions of Ventura, Los Angeles and Santa Barbara counties, recalled that the measure was introduced on behalf of the California Waste Management Board.
According to an Assembly Natural Resources Committee analysis of the proposal, the board urged passage of the measure because "the state is running out of disposal capacity, yet new facilities are not being established because of local public opposition to siting such facilities."
Under the proposal, state waste officials would have had authority to override local opposition if denial of a dump posed a threat to public health, safety or well-being. Wright said the bill hit a snag when various parties--including local governments--could not agree on what would constitute a public health emergency. Without consensus, Wright said, she dropped the bill.
The bill's supporters included the city of San Francisco and the California Refuse Removal Council. Albert Marino, a lobbyist for the council, acknowledged that he has been questioned by the grand jury about Norcal but said he does not recall being questioned about the legislation.
"They asked me if I had ever asked Willie Brown's office" for assistance on any legislation or whether Norcal officials urged him to obtain "Willie Brown's intercession." Marino said he had not sought Brown's help on Norcal's behalf or been asked by Norcal to talk to the Speaker in connection with any bills.
According to reports filed with the secretary of state, Norcal is a major campaign donor, which in the past two years has contributed nearly $125,000, including $500 to Wright. Norcal has only one Southern California subsidiary, which operates four dumps for San Bernardino County, a company spokesman said.
Wright's bill was opposed by the County Supervisors Assn. of California and the California League of Cities, which voiced concerns that the proposal could usurp local dump siting authority.
Robert F. Conheim, general counsel to the waste board, said the Wright measure was handled routinely. "It didn't seem to have any hidden agendas," Conheim said.
Times staff writer Paul Jacobs contributed to this story.