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Chula Vista community members say they were misled about Otay Landfill

Updated: May 26, 2022 at 10:44 AM PDT
Otay Landfill sent the following statement in response to our reporting:

As a responsible operator, we work closely with regulatory partners to ensure compliance. And as a good neighbor, we are always mindful of our neighbors and welcome any opportunity to discuss questions or perspectives about the Landfill. We are honored to serve this special community and look forward to continuing to do so safely and responsibly now and in the future.

When Maryland couple Bob and Shirly Krilowicz were thinking of buying a new home in the community of Escaya in Chula Vista, they were excited to live out their California dream.

"And it just seemed like a great community for us to move into," said Bob Krilowicz.

Their only concern: the community would be nestled below the Otay Landfill. But he said Brookfield, the company they dealt with, put their minds at ease.

"What about this landfill and they said we would not see any trash, they work here full time, they’ve never seen trash, occasional smells, every once in a while, not too bad, not a worry basically," said Bob.

That was back in 2018. Bob says they were told Republic Services would build a large screening berm so they would never see trash, they even got that in writing. The sales team told them landfill operations would completely stop in 2022. They were sold.

The Samala Prado family were sold too.

"And we ended up being so blessed by God," said Elizabeth Samala Prado. She and her family said they did their due diligence, and, just like the Krilowiczs, they were assured they would not see dumping operations.

Both families say once they moved in and most of the community was built out and the last of the homes were sold their dream neighborhood changed. This became their new normal constant trash dumps in plain sight and horrible smells blanketing their beautiful neighborhood.

"The strange aromas at night and yes we did hear like the firing sounds and I was like what was that it’s like a jet or what’s going on here," said Elizabeth.

"All night there’s like these dinging sounds and they send off fireworks to scare away the birds and stuff — so it’s like sounds, smells all coming from that area," said Bob.

So Bob took action making calls and emailing sales, Republic Services, and anyone from the city or county he thought could help.

"It was like a game of hot potato, because no matter who I talk(ed) to, 'we don’t know anything about that, go talk to this person go talk to that person'" he said.

He and his wife even went to the landfill personally to confront management.

"We were told that you guys would be out in a couple of years and ... now why are you still here?," said Bob. "And they laughed and said, 'Oh no, no we’re going to be here a minimum of nine more years at our discretion — this is all our turf and we can do whatever we want with it,' and that’s when I got a cold chill and said 'oh, oh, something went wrong here.'"

Along with other members of the community, including local business owners, they were able to get a meeting with the mayor Mary Casillas Salas, Steve Padilla, his district representative and Republic Services management. That’s when they asked about the berm that was supposed to hide the trash. After all, they said it was promised in writing.

"'Oh well, the slopes are too steep now to build a screening berm' and I said 'well who made the slopes deep?'" he said.

They also worry about air quality and methane levels. In 2017 methane and other dangerous chemicals were found underground at the site. The builder addressed the issues. But it’s unclear where things stand now.

KPBS asked for the latest numbers from Republic and the county. Republic Services did not respond and the county said they would get the numbers to us as soon as possible.

"The last time they did air quality was like in 2017 and that the only station that’s checking the air is actually checking the air is several miles away so maybe we should be doing that closer into the neighborhood here with a sensor here to see what the air quality is closer to the neighborhood cause this is where the people are living nothing against the prison where the sensor actually exists," Bob said.

"If they’re not living up what they said, if there are soil issues, air issues, the quality of life issues being here considering it’s our first home for me and my husband and we want to have children and … there’s an elementary school here I’m thinking about all the families here," said Samala Prado.

Bob said at this point he would settle for work to move to the other side of the landfill where it would be out of sight.

"I think's that appealing to their being a better corporate neighbor," said Bob. "(It) would really be helpful and then we could all just kind of be peaceful."

He said he’s speaking out not just for changes for his community but one that was recently approved by the city.

"It’s a cautionary tale for anybody that wants to, cause apparently this new development is going to be even closer than we are ... you can’t build to the foot of a landfill, it’s just insane," said Bob.

KPBS reached out to city leaders including the mayor, Republic Services and Brookfield. We only heard back from city officials, who said they could not provide the documents we requested in time. No one responded to requests for interviews.

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