Monday, September 17, 2007


Hardly anyone would be thrilled with a waste dump/recycling center down the street. It's the old "I like the idea, but not in my back yard."

The result is that most of these places find their home in the back yards of those least able to resist and who end up with a whole slew of the "not in my backyard" projects.

Often that means the residents just happen to be people of color.

And that is the case in Santa Cruz County.

You would think that all the environmentalist who inhabit what is referred to as "North County" (which includes Santa Cruz) would open their doors at the chance to host a new waste management center referred happily to as an "EcoPark." Not!

They think the heavily Latino "South County" would be a better home.

The folks living in South County aren't so thrilled with idea.

Watsonville lawyer Luis Alejo, who opposed the previous landfill proposal, told the Santa Cruz Sentinel last April that while the recycling facility would put Santa Cruz County on the "cutting edge," he doesn't think South County, which is home to the landfill now, should have to take a second garbage facility.

"Why don't other parts of the county step up to take responsibility?" he asked.

"This is completely unacceptable and is another example of the county looking at South County as a dumping ground," Alejo wrote in a letter to the Board of Supervisors.

Tens of thousands have come to the Pajaro Valley seeking low-paying agricultural jobs. The county’s $290 million agricultural industry is a vacuum that sucks landless peasants and underpaid urban laborers up from Mexico. As a result, the Latino population in the Pajaro Valley is growing faster than any other group in the county, drawn largely by the area’s agriculture. They work hard. They hope for a better life (just like everyone else).

A few years back Watsonville City Manager Carlos Palacios said, “The Latino community here is a working-class community ... that is moving into the middle class. Like other immigrant groups before them, they’re following the American Dream.”

The "dream" doesn't include being the favorite site for what their wealthier, whiter neighbors don't want in their backyards.

The following is from the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

Act now to stop a South County dump

Unless Pajaro Valley residents demand otherwise, it is almost guaranteed that the new county waste management center being proposed will be placed in South County. A June 8 report by the county Public Works Department reveals that all of the primary sites for the waste center are in the Pajaro Valley.

The county has already placed a public-relations spin to the waste-management center by calling it an "EcoPark" But what it actually amounts to is a 20-25 acre industrial site to transload/transfer county trash and to resell recyclables, and another 25-50 acre site for composting. The EcoPark is supposed to be an alternative to creating a new landfill, which caused a storm of controversy in 2004.

The memorandum from the county Public Works Department states, "The more preferred EcoPark sites are summarized to include:

The Buena Vista landfill property and/or a smaller grouping of sites adjacent to or in the region of the Buena Vista landfill.
The sites at Airport Road exit and the site adjacent and south of the Airport Road exit.

The site on the south side of Riverside Drive, adjacent to the old "Bus Barn" site, near the city of Watsonville.
A variety of possible sites at the Highway 129 exit of Highway 1.

The more preferred compost/bulky materials processing areas include:

The site on Harkins Slough Road, which had previously been used as a swine facility.

Sites in the foothills of the eastern edge of the Pajaro Valley, east of Watsonville.

A variety of sites at the Highway 129 exit of Highway 1.

The sites at Airport Road exit and the site adjacent and south of the Airport Road Exit.

A total of 11 of 14 sites considered for the EcoPark are in the Pajaro Valley. Only three sites are in Mid- or North County, but those have been eliminated and are no longer under consideration. This is completely unacceptable and is another example of the county looking to South County as its dumping ground.

The old Birds Eye Foods site in Watsonville was also eliminated after protest by the Watsonville City Council after it passed a waste-center moratorium, but the concept "remains under consideration," according to the report.

I urge local residents to review the report and maps of the possible sites for yourselves on the county's Web site at

Some problems associated with such a waste center include falling debris on streets, foul odors, vermin, noise and traffic. Hundreds of individual vehicles and huge numbers of county waste and recycling trucks will be delivering numerous tons of trash and recyclables each day. The EcoPark certainly threatens prime agricultural land at some sites, and may undermine the intent of the smart growth plan, Measure U, which was approved by 60 percent of Watsonville voters in 2002.

Recycling, composting and minimizing the amount of waste that goes to the Marina landfill are much needed and laudable goals. It is certainly what the county should be doing, but why does South County always have to bear the burden for the county? Why don't other parts of the county step up to take responsibility or be seriously considered? I have yet to see any city or county official from any other part of the county asking for this EcoPark to be placed in their community.

The Pajaro Valley has already dealt with the county's landfill needs for decades at the Buena Vista Landfill, which has about 17 years of life left. It's time for other parts of the county to step up.

Having to deal with the county's waste and recyclables wasn't part of the vision of our general plan in Watsonville, nor was it something we envisioned for the Pajaro Valley. As some studies have pointed out, waste-management centers, incinerators, recycling centers and landfills are frequently placed near communities of color. With limited land available in the Pajaro Valley, the amount of acres would be put to better use on other pressing needs.

The county Public Works Department must place other possible sites in Mid- and North County for serious consideration, especially since most of the trash is generated from the area between Live Oak and Aptos. Some Pajaro Valley residents have already urged the county to consider multiple smaller sites for the EcoPark. I agree that this would be a more fair and equitable approach than what is currently being proposed and would allow other sites to be seriously considered in other parts of the county.

On Sept. 5, the Watsonville Planning Commission unanimously voted to ban any future waste and recycling centers from being placed in Watsonville. The issue will be going before the Watsonville City Council later this month, which approved the temporary waste-center moratorium last December. It is clear that the new waste management center is not wanted in South County.

The county Board of Supervisors will be vote at its Sept. 18 meeting whether to move forward with environmental impact report on one or more possible sites, or whether to direct staff to look into alternatives. Now is the time to let the entire Board of Supervisors know how you feel about placing the EcoPark in the Pajaro Valley. This is an issue of equity, fairness and social and environmental justice for the people of the Pajaro Valley.

Luis A. Alejo is a public interest attorney and a member of the Watsonville Planning Commission.

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