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With Pala Purchase, Landfill Plan For Gregory Canyon Is Dead

Photo credit: Tony Zuniga

An aerial view of Gregory Canyon, Nov. 18, 2016.

With Pala Purchase, Landfill Plan For Gregory Canyon Is Dead

GUEST:

Alison St John, reporter, KPBS News

Transcript

More than 20 years of controversy over a plan to put a landfill in Gregory Canyon in North County comes to an end, as the Pala Band of Mission Indians buys a portion of the site for $13 million.

San Diego voters have twice approved a plan to develop a landfill in Gregory Canyon — the first time back in 1994, then again in 2004. But for more than 20 years the project — off state Route 76, three miles east of Interstate 15 — was vigorously opposed.

Opponents argued the San Luis Rey River that runs beneath the site would eventually get polluted. Jurisdictions as far away as Oceanside use the groundwater that connects to the aquifer. The Pala Band of Mission Indians has a casino nearby, and the band relies on groundwater.

Robert Smith, chairman of the Pala Band, said its members voted this week to go ahead with the $13 million purchase of 700 acres on Gregory Mountain, in order to stop the dump.

“Yeah, we’ve been fighting it for over 20 years,” Smith said. “The main thing is protecting our water sources and ancestral burial grounds and village, so it’s a great accomplishment for the tribe.”

Shasta Gaughen, the environmental director and Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for Pala, said several Native American Indian bands regard Gregory Mountain as sacred, the legendary home of one of their spirit ancestors.

“We had to make that public for people to understand why it was so important that trash not to be piled on the side of Chok’la on Tauquitch’s home," Gaughen said. “This is part of the spiritual and cultural tradition for all of the Luiseno people, for the Cupeno people, even for Cahuilla people. All those bands are related and they share a lot of the same origins and spiritual practices, so it was important to pretty much the entirety of Southern California.”

Photo by Nicholas McVicker

Gregory Canyon, January 2013

The original investors in Gregory Canyon had such trouble getting the permits for the landfill they were eventually foreclosed. A San Diego investment company, Sovereign Capital, bought the land last year for pennies on the dollar.

Todd Mikles of Sovereign Capital called the effort to build the landfill “a black hole” for previous investors.

“I think it’s over $100 million,” he said. “Definitely well over $100 million. The list of investors was quite long.”

In working with the Army Corps of Engineers in Washington on a long awaited permit for the project, Mikles learned about the 106 Review Process, which requires the Corps of Engineers to consult with tribes to weigh the cultural value of sites.

Mikles returned to the Pala Band to negotiate. The agreement they have reached allows the band to take possession of Gregory Mountain and allows Sovereign Capital to pursue a commercial and residential development on the remaining land, a little more than 1,000 acres.

"I think that’s where we decided we could do something different,” Mikles said. "And the tribe would support it because they feel the valley is ripe for development and they feel that would help them as well, so it was a win-win for both parties.”

Photo credit: Pala Band

A map of the Gregory Canyon site shows the area purchased by the Pala Band for $13 million, Nov. 18, 2016.

Mikles said his goal is to put an initiative on the ballot in 2018 to rezone the land. County spokesman Gig Conaughton said the land is currently zoned for a solid waste facility. It’s a unique zoning created in 1994 when the voters adopted Proposition C, establishing the site as a landfill site.

Gregory Canyon is just a few miles north of Lilac Hills where Accretive Investments failed to win — in spite of investing $5 million — voter approval for Measure B, an initiative on the November Ballot earlier this month that would have allowed a housing development in Valley Center.

“I think we’re different,“ Mikles said. “Lilac Hills was different because they didn’t have the infrastructure of roads. But at the entry of 76 and 15 there’s a lot of development with Palomar College and a lot of homes being developed there. A lot of infrastructure is being planned though Caltrans.”

Perhaps the biggest difference is that, unlike Lilac Hills, where the neighbors worked hard to keep the property rural, part of Sovereign Capital’s agreement with Pala is that the band will not oppose the project.

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