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July 5, 2006 > A non-binding bind

A non-binding bind

by Steve Warga

By this reporter's count, the term "non-binding" sprang from the lips of Sunol dump supporters at least a dozen times in the first few minutes of debate at last Wednesday's meeting of the Alameda County Waste Management Authority (ACWMA) board. The term fairly describes the resolution passed unanimously by Alameda County Supervisors on June 15. As reported in the June 20 edition of TCV, that resolution expressed a firm "no confidence" in any attempt by ACWMA to secure a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for a proposed compost facility in the Sunol Valley off Andrade Road. Non-binding, yes, but only because the CUP application has yet to be submitted. The Supervisors action was intended as a clear signal to ACWMA that an application for their cherished Sunol project would be "dead on arrival."

Even so, die-hard supporters on the ACWMA board kept throwing "non-binding" around like a cheap lifeline cast to a drowning victim long since deceased. Finally, however, the reality began to set in as some supporters admitted that "non-binding" wasn't going to save the day. That's when things turned interesting.

Like Alice stepping through the looking glass into a fantasy world beyond, board member Jean Quan, an Oakland city council member declared her ignorance of any previous criticisms of this particular site. Ignoring the clunk of jaws hitting the floor, Quan blithely demanded an explanation that would bring her up to speed noting, "I've only been on the board for 18 months." The only way she could have missed a landslide of objections raised against this project would have been by ignoring mountains of reports, letters and memos while sleeping through dozens of spoken and written comments expressed in numerous public hearings during her board tenure. Quan's ante encouraged a host of copy cats.

Dublin's Claudia McCormick managed to distinguish her own oversight failure by claiming, "We've all been had by the (board of) Supervisors! It's been a fantasy." She then proceeded to sarcastically insult citizens of Sunol who banded together to fight this attempt to dump on them. She "praised" them for "getting political and ... finding the soft spots" in the project. Had she bothered to read or listen to even some of those "soft spot" details, she might have distinguished a pattern of highly questionable conduct by the very people she has sworn to oversee. Then she might have faithfully discharged her duty as a board member by calling for a thorough accounting from staff in answer to many valid arguments against the Sunol site; arguments Executive Director Karen Smith and Senior Project Manager Brian Mathews should have considered long ago.

Olden Henson, president-elect of the ACWMA, member of the Hayward city council and self-described "technocrat" expressed his dashed hopes for a technology-driven solution to the Sunol project, rather than a "political" one. He compared technology at a composting facility in Washington with that envisioned for the Sunol location.

Criticism of the ACWMA proposed Final Environmental Impact Report indicated that the Washington and Sunol sites envisioned different methods (or technology) of composting. The ACWMA blueprint employed aerated static piling (ASP), a technology the Washington facility abandoned several years ago after settling a class action lawsuit for around $35 million. Thereafter, that site installed a closed-vessel composting process to avoid further legal complaints of offensive odors and other nuisances. Like Quan and McCormick, Henson seemed totally ignorant of all the material and testimony presented over the past two and a half years.

Surprisingly, board member Sheila Young, San Leandro's mayor, managed to go beyond all prior admissions of ignorance by her colleagues as she noted, "When this site was first proposed, we didn't even know there were people in Sunol." In the mid-term elections last month, Young was soundly defeated in her bid to unseat county Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker.

A crowning comment came from outgoing president, Nancy McEnroe, vice-mayor of Piedmont when she suggested a "clear statement" to the county Supervisors; McEnroe did not, however, formally offer this motion. Her message: "Look what you've done to us." Both Young and McEnroe appeared sincere in their comments.

As the blame game wound to a close, a vote was finally called on a motion to instruct ACWMA staff to cease further work on the Final Environmental Impact Report and establish some method of telling staff what to do next. The motion passed by unanimous voice vote. In a companion motion, the board approved placing an item on the July 28 meeting agenda for a properly-noticed resolution to end the entire Sunol Valley project. All sides appeared to agree that this vote would be a mere formality.

Although this saga appears finished, some serious questions remain unanswered. Were the poor decisions, evasions and manipulations by Smith and Mathews merely the result of good intentions gone awry; was this a case of gross incompetence; or was their conduct deliberately confusing? Board member Bob Wasserman, Fremont's mayor and a former police investigator raised the issue in his comments. "In all my years of experience with public employees, I've never seen such questionable conduct with the exception of one corruption investigation I was a part of."

For more information and background on this issue visit our website www.tricityvoice.com and search our archives for these previous articles; Will Sunol stink? 4/11/2006; A dump in Sunol or a dump on Sunol? 5/30/2006; and NO CONFIDENCE! 6/20/2006.

 
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