As a roomful of opponents jeered and hissed, the Ventura County Planning Commission on Thursday granted the operator of the proposed Weldon Canyon landfill a six-month delay of hearings that could have been a first step toward county rejection of the controversial project.
But the city of Ojai, seeking speedy county rejection of the proposed landfill, immediately filed an appeal to the Board of Supervisors. And a majority of the five-member board--Supervisors Maria E. VanderKolk, Susan K. Lacey and Maggie Kildee--said Thursday that they intend to grant the appeal next month.
That would nullify the Planning Commission's vote and force the commission to hold the hearings without further delay, which would set the stage for an eventual showdown vote by the supervisors.
Waste Management of North America asked for Thursday's postponement after it became clear that the supervisors would probably defeat the landfill proposal. The company has said it hopes that the political climate might become more favorable to Weldon Canyon later in the year.
Opponents of the landfill proposal packed the commission hearing Thursday morning hoping to pressure the commissioners to deny the request and vote on the project, which would have sent it to the supervisors for final consideration.
In approving Waste Management's postponement request, commissioners said they wanted the company to use the delay to come up with a more comprehensive plan to dispose of the county's garbage.
"It seems to me that there are a lot of conflicting policies in the county to take care of solid waste issues and no one is really talking to each other," said Commissioner Laura Bartels, who voted in favor of the delay. "This will give the county an opportunity to come up with a united policy."
Commissioners Robert Muroaka and the Rev. Johnie Carlisle Jr. joined Bartels in granting the postponement. Commissioners Betty Taylor and Sue Boecker voted against the delay.
"I think we have plenty of agencies in the county searching for solutions to waste problems," Taylor said. "This proposal has been dragging along long enough; I see no reason to postpone it any longer."
The 3-2 vote angered the standing-room-only crowd of landfill opponents, many of whom had planned to voice their opposition to the project at the hearing.
"The county has really screwed this thing up and I am really, really angry," said Nina Shelley, an Ojai City Council member who has long opposed building a landfill in the 500-acre canyon at the mouth of the Ojai Valley.
"We're horribly disappointed," said Linda Kelsey, an Ojai resident and member of the Coalition to Stop Weldon Canyon Dump. "I came today to talk about the problems of having a dump here and I don't even get a chance to speak."
Coalition head Michael Shapiro said the group advocates recycling and other trash disposal alternatives, arguing that a dump is an outmoded form of garbage management that would exacerbate traffic and air pollution problems in the Ojai Valley.
Landfill opponents said they supported the city of Ojai's appeal of the delay. It will probably be considered by the Board of Supervisors at a meeting July 6, county Planning Director Keith Turner said.
Supervisors VanderKolk, Lacey and Kildee said they would vote to approve the appeal, which would force the Planning Commission to hold the hearings at an earlier date.
"We have the information we need," said VanderKolk, who opposes the dump. "It's time to make a decision."
Supervisors John K. Flynn and Vicky Howard said they would uphold the commission's decision to postpone hearings on the landfill proposal.
Flynn announced earlier this week that he advised Waste Management to seek the postponement to try and muster support for the landfill.
Waste Management officials, who had asked for an indefinite delay of the hearings, said Thursday they were nonetheless pleased with the decision to delay consideration of the project until December.
"We still stand very strongly with our initial comments to the Planning Commission to keep all options available," Waste Management project manager James M. Jevens said. "We hope now to see a concerted effort on the part of elected officials to work with us on some resolution."
Jevens said Waste Management would be willing to discuss with the county other trash disposal possibilities to complement the proposed landfill, such as intensively recycling garbage or hauling it out of the county.
A Planning Commission staff report released this week recommended approval of the dump, shrunk to a third of its originally proposed size. But VanderKolk, Lacey and Kildee are expected to vote to reject any landfill in Weldon Canyon.