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July 18, 2006 > The Beginnings

The Beginnings

by Steve Warga

In this first of a series, TCV takes a look at the beginnings of a doomed plan to build a massive composting facility in the Sunol Valley; a plan that would consume millions of dollars in public money and nearly three years of public time and energy.

In the summer of 2004, Brian Mathews began visiting residents and business owners along a thinly-populated stretch of Andrade Road in the vicinity of Interstate 680, seeking support for a composting facility that would be located on a piece of land nearby. A Senior Project Manager with the Alameda County Waste Management Authority (ACWMA), Mathews spoke of a site that would recycle green waste into reusable compost. According to several of these residents, Mathews did not mention food waste, animal waste and did not bother to explain that the proposed facility envisioned the processing of 600 tons per day (TPD), an enormously ambitious undertaking. What he did do in those early meetings was misrepresent his intentions, in at least one case; and offer financial inducements, leaving more than one resident feeling Mathews was trying to "buy us off."

Rhonda Ivaldi, owner of a horse stable and riding business that caters to children, described how two gentlemen stopped by one day, claiming to be interested in boarding horses. The two, Mathews and an unnamed assistant, finally revealed their true intentions. Ivaldi states in a letter to the ACWMA oversight board, "(Mathews) was very concerned at trying to figure out something that I needed that he could offer so I would be in favor of the composting facility on Andrade Road." She described how Mathews and an associate offered free manure disposal, free access to San Francisco water and natural gas piped into her property at no cost, and suggested a reduction of property taxes might be arranged. Through it all, Ivaldi's initial suspicions grew to the point that she "became a little uncomfortable and ... ended the conversation."

Another business owner's letter to the ACWMA board relates a mention from Mathews "that my property ... and neighboring properties would have their property taxes paid for." Since Mathews had already identified himself as an employee of ACWMA, the clear inference was that the Authority would pick up the property tax tab. An attorney consulted by TCV stated that such use of public money would be highly questionable and probably illegal.

Local rancher, Stan Garcia and his wife, Carol, found themselves corralled into a two and half hour conversation with Mathews and his associate. The Garcias were of particular interest to Mathews since they hold limited grazing rights to the land sought by ACWMA. Along with promises of home improvements to abate anticipated odors, Mathews even offered Garcia a job. The subject of land acquisition appears to be one of many details ignored by ACWMA staff.

Nearly two years passed before locals officially heard anything more from the ACWMA, either in the person of Mathews or Executive Director Karen Smith. However, the two were far from idle. Public money was spent studying, analyzing and addressing the myriad details of a Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR). That document served notice that ACWMA fully intended to advocate for the Sunol location.

Serious flaws, oversights and misrepresentations in the DEIR were identified, but a Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) ignored problems highlighted by numerous private individuals, qualified experts and public oversight agencies with the power to withhold approval and permits for the specified operations. When it became obvious that required permits would be denied, ACWMA staff asked for more time.

ACWMA oversight board voted to grant the request for four more months of study. Shortly after that meeting in May, county supervisor Scott Haggerty asked the county staff to review one of the project's most glaring questions. Haggerty wanted to know if the proposed facility complied with the county's land use plan, as amended by Measure D. The compost facility was labeled as unsuitable for land designated as "Water Management Land". With this opinion in hand, Haggerty presented a "no confidence" motion to his fellow supervisors who passed it unanimously. A formal vote to end the project is scheduled for the ACWMA's regular board meeting on Wednesday, July 20.

In a subsequent issue, TCV will examine some of the more blatant flaws in the Environmental Impact Reports. Were these due to inadvertent oversight or gross incompetence?

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