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May 30, 2006 > A dump in Sunol or a dump on Sunol?

A dump in Sunol or a dump on Sunol?

by Steve Warga

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." (First Amendment, US Constitution)

Over 200 years have passed since the writing of that First Amendment. Since then thousands upon thousands of citizens have peaceably assembled, thousands of times, in groups of all sizes for redress of grievances both large and small. It was Civics 101 last Wednesday at San Leandro's Main Public Library. Citizens peaceably assembled to petition the government.

Concerned citizens filled a chartered bus and dozens of private vehicles traveled from bucolic Sunol Valley to San Leandro. These people, an eclectic mix of ages, gender and dress came to speak their minds to the Alameda County Waste Management Authority (ACWMA). They wore business suits and short hair, faded jeans and long hair, sandals and wingtips, suspenders with work shirts, painted nails with pumps. Speaking as one, the message came through loud and clear, "Don't dump on Sunol!"

ACWMA prefers their idea be known as an "Organics Processing Development Program and Project" while Alameda County residents far-removed from the projected site prefer to call it a "compost facility." But to Sunol Valley residents, including the approximately 150 who attended the hearing, it's a garbage dump, plain and simple. They are convinced that it will stink; it will pollute; it will contaminate; and it will generate endless noise, day and night close to businesses and more than a few front yards. The essence of their protest, unchanged since the project first surfaced, is that this is a bad location for what may be a good idea. This location marks a third attempt to increase recycling capacity in response to Measure D passed by voters 16 years ago.

Sunol Valley resident concerns were supported by nine members of the oversight board at the meeting on Wednesday, May 24th. Questions were raised, not always politely. For instance, in January 2005, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District recommended "at least 12 months of representative onsite meteorological data" before they would approve the Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR). ACWMA staff apparently ignored the "onsite" language by collecting data from wind readings on a ridge at the opposite end of the valley.

ACWMA staff altered the long-planned agenda, asking the Board to approve a continuance until September 2006 so they could collect "onsite" data. Board member and Pleasanton's mayor Jennifer Hosterman, asked why the staff had placed this item on the agenda without providing copies of a 100-plus page addendum explaining the reasoning behind the proposed delay. Staff member, Karen Smith, suggested they didn't want to "kill maybe another entire tree" producing all that paper for what she felt the Board members didn't need to see individually.

A disgusted, Hosterman said that such effrontery from Pleasanton staff would result in immediate dismissals. Noting that ACWMA staff has tried to "hog-tie" the Board into accepting the delay, Hosterman offered a substitute motion that the entire project be abandoned. When Chairwoman Nancy McEnroe, Vice-Mayor of Piedmont, opened the floor to public comment, many Sunol Valley citizens rose to speak. Time extensions were granted to the few individuals speaking in favor of the compost facility and denied to those opposed.

County Supervisor Gail Steele waited her turn and spoke in support of the substitute motion. Her opponent in the June 6 election, Richard Valle, added his voice in support of the motion to kill the project. Valle noted that his company, Tri-CED stood to benefit financially from a Sunol location but he still thinks it's a bad idea.

Ultimately, the Board voted 11 to 9 against the substitute motion and 11 to 8 (with one abstention) in favor of the staff's resolution to delay approval of the FEIR until September 27 of this year. This would seem to indicate the project is in limbo, lacking enough votes to pass or terminate. The fight is far from finished.

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