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Decisions on Use of Val Verde Funds Limited to Citizens

Sanitation: Latino groups assail landfill-panel deal for excluding many residents from decision on spending money.

May 15, 1997|TIMOTHY WILLIAMS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After agreeing to make annual cash payments to Val Verde residents in exchange for their support of an expanded nearby landfill, Laidlaw Waste Systems Inc. and a prominent community group have moved to limit decisions to U.S. citizens on how the money is spent in the largely Latino area.

Only those residents who are "registered to vote in the community of Val Verde" will be allowed to become members of the Community Benefits Funding Committee, according to an amendment to the February contract agreement between Laidlaw and the Val Verde Civic Assn. made public Wednesday.

Members of the committee will decide how to spend landfill fees of as much as $280,000 that Laidlaw will pay annually to Val Verde.

The small, impoverished community in the Santa Clarita Valley is 60% Latino, and Latino groups say they believe the arrangement seeks to intentionally exclude many of them from serving on the committee or even voting for its members. A group of Latino activists have opposed the landfill expansion since it was initially proposed.

But supporters of the predominantly white Val Verde Civic Assn. say the organization had to choose a method that ensured decisions on the landfill money would be made only by Val Verde residents.

The civic association decided the most efficient method was to base qualifications on voter-registration rolls, which do not include legal or illegal immigrants because they are not allowed to vote.

The county Board of Supervisors is scheduled to discuss the issue Tuesday as the final piece of the plan to expand Chiquita Canyon landfill.

Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who represents the area, has said he will go along with whatever the civic association decides because he has designated the group to be the representative body of the unincorporated community.

An Antonovich aide said Wednesday that the supervisor has no problem with the plan to limit decision making in Val Verde to U.S. citizens.

"If you are going to have a vote, particularly about a group responsible for a large amount of money, you need controls," said Dave Vannatta, Antonovich's deputy.

The group that has been in the forefront of opposition is LACH, or Lucha Ambiental de la Comunidad Hispana, which has complained that environmental concerns, including potential air and water pollution, have not been adequately addressed.

Although the group said they represent a large number of people, the organization's advisor said neither the trash hauler nor the civic association had asked their preference in determining how to elect the committee.

"We weren't consulted," said Beth Osthimer, who provides the group with legal advice as an attorney with San Fernando Valley Neighborhood Legal Services. "No one talked to them. [Laidlaw] cut the same deal with the same people."

A second group, Unidos de Val Verde, sent a letter to the Board of Supervisors, which read in part: "We are very concerned about any requirement that imposes citizenship as a condition of a person's ability to participate in community affairs in Val Verde, and to have a say over how any funds from any community benefit would be allocated. . . . We believe the process is discriminatory with respect to our neighbors and those of us who are concerned with protecting the health and welfare in this community."

Members of Laidlaw and the Val Verde Civic Assn. did not return phone calls seeking comment.

The dispute began in February after the civic association, which had fought the expansion of Chiquita Canyon landfill for years, agreed to allow Laidlaw to operate the landfill on the edge of Val Verde until 2019 and increase its capacity from 3 million tons to 23 million tons.

In return, Laidlaw agreed to stop dumping chemically treated human waste at the site and to pay Val Verde a fee each year based on how much garbage was dumped at the landfill.

Despite the complaints of LACH, which had not been included in the negotiating process, the Board of Supervisors approved the agreement. The board also ordered the civic association to draw up rules for the election of a committee to decide how the landfill money would be spent each year.

The result was the agreement between Laidlaw and the civic association.

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