Ventura County Supervisor Maggie Kildee announced Wednesday that she is no longer convinced that building a new landfill is the solution to the county's solid-waste problems, a decision that could spell doom for the proposed Weldon Canyon dump.
Kildee, who is considered the swing vote on the fate of the new landfill near Ojai, told a room of about 135 constituents at a breakfast meeting that the county should look at other options for waste disposal.
Although she stopped short of saying she would vote against the Weldon Canyon landfill, Kildee said: "We need to stop looking at a hole in the ground to solve our solid-waste disposal.
"It's an antiquated solution that will not change unless we make the hard decision not to do it," she added, her voice barely audible over the group's applause. "It's an easy answer, but I don't believe it is the right answer for Ventura County."
Her announcement came just a week before the Ventura County Planning Commission will decide whether a final environmental impact report for the proposed dump meets county codes.
Supervisors are expected to vote on the matter July 6, ending nearly a decade of debate over whether the county should build the landfill.
So far, Supervisors Maria VanderKolk and Susan K. Lacey have been critical of the project, while Supervisors John K. Flynn and Vicky Howard said they favor moving forward with it.
"Now Maggie is the third vote against Weldon," Flynn said.
Following Kildee's breakfast meeting at the Oxnard Hilton, members of Ojai Valley's Coalition to Stop Weldon Canyon Dump praised the supervisor, saying she has shown leadership.
"We are excited," said Michael Shapiro, coalition member and movie producer. "She has taken a very courageous and visionary position."
In addition to Shapiro, other coalition members attending the meeting included actress Mary Steenburgen, movie producer David Zucker and actor Scott Bakula, star of the television series "Quantum Leap." All are residents of Ojai.
"I admire (Kildee) tremendously," Bakula said. "The easiest thing for most politicians to do is to stay in a comfortable place. She definitely wants to take a leadership stand. I applaud her for recognizing the future 60 years down the line."
The Ojai Valley group and several other environmental groups in the area have contended that the dump would only bring pollution to the pristine area.
In an effort to find alternatives to building a landfill, Kildee suggested that supervisors look more closely at the possibility of hauling trash out of the county by rail.
She also said she would like to see the county expand its recycling and composting programs.
"I don't think Ventura County should be the last county in the state to site a landfill near people," said Kildee, adding that she reached her decision after extensive study. "Ventura County must take the lead. We cannot look to the past to solve this complex problem."
VanderKolk praised her colleague.
"Maggie is looking for alternatives rather than the same old thing," she said. "I think it's great."
Although Howard and Flynn said they agreed that the county should explore a variety of ways to deal with the county's trash, they said the board would be remiss to abandon Weldon Canyon.
"I don't think we have reached a point in our technology that we can do without landfills," Howard said. "Some of the things we are looking at are unproven. We still need to move forward with Weldon, even if it becomes just a backup."
Flynn added: "It may not be prudent simply to rule out Weldon. Even if Weldon were approved, it doesn't mean it ever has to be opened."
Lacey could not be reached for comment Wednesday. However, she has said in the past that she wanted to explore hauling the county's trash by rail.
Jim Jevens, project manager for the waste company that hopes to operate the west county landfill, said Kildee appears to be giving in to "all the celebrity hype."
"She has been under a tremendous amount of pressure from Ojai," said Jevens, who works for Waste Management Inc. "I respect the supervisor for putting up for it as long as she has."
Despite Kildee's statements, Jevens said he still holds out hope that the board will approve the dump.
"We'll ride the tide," he said.