San Diego County Dist. Atty. Edwin Miller warned Wednesday that public agencies should use "extreme caution" before dealing with Waste Management Inc., the company that is seeking to operate the proposed Ventura County landfill at Weldon Canyon.
In a 58-page report requested by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, Miller's staff scolded the trash company, the nation's largest, for its history of environmental sins, public corruption and attempts to "gain undue influence over government officials."
The San Diego investigation found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing by the company.
But Ventura County officials said Miller's report echoes a similar negative report issued last fall by Ventura County Sheriff John V. Gillespie after his office investigated the company.
Gillespie's staff identified criminal and civil cases filed against Waste Management Inc. during a 10-year period and described the 1985 and 1987 bribery convictions of two of its employees in Illinois. Both employees were fired by the company, the report said.
The report detailed many of the cases, showing that Waste Management or its subsidiaries were fined or agreed to pay settlements totaling $18.5 million in a dozen states. But Ventura County investigators reported that they could find no link between Waste Management Inc.'s officers and organized crime.
County Supervisor Maria VanderKolk said of the San Diego report, "It doesn't surprise me. It's certainly been one of the reasons why I have not been real favorable on this issue. All environmental impacts aside, I do not relish the idea of Waste Management having a monopoly on waste disposal for the county."
Miller's report concluded that the company's method of lobbying, including a $50,000 donation to a nonprofit San Diego sailing foundation headed by County Supervisor Brian Bilbray, "suggests an unseemly effort . . . to manipulate local government for its own business ends."
Waste Management officials in Oak Brook, Ill., said the San Diego report "provided no new information and was replete with inaccurate statements and half-truths taken out of context."
J. Steven Bergerson, vice president and general counsel for Waste Management, described as "particularly malicious and scurrilous" parts of the report that linked organized crime to companies that were later acquired by Waste Management.
But San Diego Supervisor Bilbray said after reading the report, "I wouldn't rent my apartment to that company."
Ojai Councilwoman Nina Shelley, an opponent of Waste Management's proposed Weldon Canyon dump, said she is concerned that Waste Management could unduly influence county officials in pursuit of the Weldon Canyon contract.
"Bad government sometimes follows the entry of a large, powerful corporation, and I don't want to see that happen in this county," Shelley said Wednesday. "We've had such a clean record so far."
But County Supervisor John Flynn, who has supported the Weldon Canyon site, warned against rushing to judge Waste Management Inc.
"I would have to look at the report," Flynn said Wednesday. "Certainly it's deserving, I'm sure, of a review since it comes from that office. However, we've had reviews in the past."
The investigation was requested after Waste Management sought approval to own and operate a private landfill in northern San Diego County. Supervisors later rejected the notion of a private landfill and the company has since withdrawn its application. Waste Management still has contracts to pick up residential and commercial trash in various parts of San Diego County.
Waste Management, however, is the fulcrum on which rests a plan to convert part of Weldon Canyon into a landfill in Ventura County, where landfill space is growing increasingly expensive and scarce.
The Ventura County Environmental Report Review Committee has declared that an environmental study of the Weldon Canyon site is adequate for the county Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors to decide whether to award the contract to Waste Management, which is leasing the property from its owner.
That decision was appealed by three bodies: the city of Ojai, the Ojai Valley Assn. for Clean Air and the Committee to Preserve the Ojai.
The Board of Supervisors is likely to hear arguments on that appeal at its meeting on April 21 or 28, said Keith Turner, deputy director of planning for the county Resource Management Agency.
Reed reported from Ventura and Gorman from San Diego.