Thursday, October 13, 2011
Trash station theater
It's a classic kabuki theater in five parts... and the second act is ongoing as the Planning Commission just continued their meeting on the proposed Pomona Valley Transfer Station to October 26 at a time after 7:00 p.m. I tweeted the last hour of the meeting when I got there.
The first act in kabuki is to introduce the players - Valley Vista Services, owned by regional power player and Mayor of the City of Industry, David Perez, coming into town promising jobs and a way to respinsibly handle the region's trash without putting them on trucks to the Puente Hills landfill, and the surrounding community, organized successfully by education and faith leaders concerned about economic, environmental, and health impacts of the station. Add the wrinkle that the expansion of the city's existing trash station was stopped through a lawsuit filed by a "Coalition for Environmental Justice"... which mysteriously has decided to support the 9th Street proposal. Of course, the owners of the existing trash station have gone on record opposing the new station, miffed that the City Council rejected not just their project, but failed to certify their Final Environmental Impact Report - unprecedented in the City of Pomona and may be unprecedented countywide (you can certify the EIR without approving the project). Not that there isn't a legal grudge match between the two already.
Now comes the second act and the Planning Commission. You have the players on the dais - some earnest in trying to keep order and civility like Denton Mosier, some with pointed but relevant questions like Arturo Jimenez, and others who apparently return barbs from the audience like Robert Torres. Others grouse about the time this is taking, but they are not going to abdicate their position from the throne - not now.
Also in the foreground are the community members gamely taking their three minutes - and then some - to express any and all of their concerns about the project. Some use the EIR as a jumping point to raise health concerns (all documented in the EIR, and correctly described as requiring a Statement of Overriding Considerations to overrule), others raise image concerns (never mind the fact that Santa Monica, Downey, and Beverly Hills all have them), a few raise questions of statistical validity and disparate impacts to minority communities, and others speak from a position of passion and emotion about the impact of corporations and outsiders on their community that they have lived and worked in for many years. Surprisingly absent are those who support the project, but in reality at this stage their participation is optional.
In the background are the attorneys, who have insisted that the second act last multiple days, other items be damned - because the lawsuit about expanding the existing trash station (described above) questioned the judgment of unpaid commissioners making decisions at 3 am in the morning. Therefore, in order to preserve the rights to end this play at a date certain, each act must also close on a date and time certain. So the meeting ends at 11 pm because the Brown Act said so, and they put the time on the agenda so that they couldn't be sued about accessibility to the public in the future. And so the participants must trudge to each recitation again and again. A decision will be made - what it is will be irrelevant, because then we move to the third act.
The third act is the inevitable appeal to the City Council. Anyone can appeal, and the proponents having spent thousands of dollars on environmental documents will certainly do so. And the opponents, having at least one sympathetic council member, will also do so. The appeal will be scheduled on a Monday evening. Hundreds of people will speak up against the project. The supporters, feeling that this will be the final decision maker, will suddenly rise up and demand to be heard themselves. They'll wear hardhats promising high paying construction jobs, and state that the increase in traffic on local streets will be negligible, and tout their commitment to green construction practices and green transportation methods. They'll come up with economic studies showing the impact of the project, and regional power players will show up to lend their weight, in front of the microphone and behind the scenes.
And because of the attorneys, and the number of players, this will continue - night after night. (If it doesn't, one from the audience will surely object that they had to get up at 6 am to work the next day, or they're a student who is violating the city curfew ordinance by watching government in action, or complain that a good decision was never made at 3 am in the morning. And they might be right.)
Each one of the seven council members on the dais will also speak their peace. A vote will be taken. Each member will make their own calculation to support or deny, based on the evidence printed, testimony provided, and future positions desired. It will likely be 4-2 or 4-3 (depending on whether they can rule Stephen Atchley, by virtue of his investments in the waste handling industry, has an ability to participate).
And regardless of the decision, we move on to Act Four. This becomes a campaign issue in the 2012 elections. The pro trash station side will attract contributions from throughout the region, showing that Pomona is a business friendly community that respects private property rights. The anti trash station side will have their boots on the ground, their union labor, and the respect afforded to leaders in faith communities. Recall papers are filed and served, mailers are delivered to homes, doors are knocked upon. Attorneys are hired and lawsuits served. Maybe even a ballot measure or two gets added. The necessary pitched battle occurs.
The fifth act is "always short, providing a quick and satisfying conclusion." Either the trash station opens, the people that can move move, and more affordable housing is added to the city. Or the trash station doesn't open, and David Perez waves the white flag and expands his existing facility, handling our region's needs while adding more trucks onto the Pomona Freeway. Just like with the original MRF facility in the early 2000's, or the casinos in the 90's, life goes on - until the next controversy.