Save Gregory Canyon

Posted by Nick Kump at Sep 23, 2011 02:50 PM |
Elmets Communications has worked on a wide variety of campaigns and causes over the years. We have helped dental professionals increase their scope of practice to better serve patients, local law enforcement in Amador County obtain more funding, but there is one issue that has survived four presidents (two of them two terms), five Summer Olympic Games, and the passing of key leaders on both sides, which never seems to fade – the fight to Save Gregory Canyon.


Gregory Canyon is a canyon on the border of the Pala Indian Reservation in North East San Diego County. The eastern slope of the canyon is formed by Gregory Mountain, the resting place of a key spiritual figure in Luiseno theology. At the base of the mountain is Medicine Rock, a giant rock used for traditional ceremonies for generations, with pictographs still visible on its surface.

The canyon is also on the banks of the San Luis Rey River, home to dozens endangered species, on top of an aquifer that supplies water to thousands of local residents and on a known earth quake fault. The more you learn about the site, the more you realize it is the absolute last possible place that you would imagine someone wanting to put a landfill. But that is exactly what this fight is about.

When you drive the winding highway 76 out to Pala, you pass by old dairy farms and behind the farms is the pristine Gregory Canyon. California’s rare Golden Eagle can be seen with its nest on the mountain and the even rarer site of a naturally flowing river in the dry Southern California desert. You cannot help but think to yourself why anyone would ever want to put a dump there.

The answer of course is that those who want to put the dump there will never have to deal with the consequences of it. Many live thousands of miles away on the East Coast and view the property as a goldmine for 30 years of charging people to deposit garbage there. The reality is anyone who sees Gregory Canyon’s beauty and experiences it would never think to bury 30 million tons of trash there.

County officials repeatedly rejected it as a potential site the 1980s and early 1990s, but dump proponents were not satisfied and ran a ballot initiative to avoid county zoning approval. Naturally, the public knowing nothing about Gregory Canyon, hearing promises of a recycling facility and with little organized or funded opposition, voted to support it.

Amazing what almost 20 years can do though. The coalition opposing the dump is now broad and organized. It includes over two dozen Indian Tribes throughout California as well as several environmental, religious, planning and labor organizations. There are also many local and state elected officials who agree Gregory Canyon is the wrong place for a dump.

The coalition ran SB 833 with the help of Sen. Juan Vargas of San Diego this past legislative session to stop this dump once and for. As any intelligent person can imagine, it had near unanimous support in the legislature, passing the Assembly to get to the governor 70-1. The sole no vote coming from Asm. Nathan Fletcher. A candidate for San Diego mayor. The governor has until October 9 to sign the bill into law.

Dump supporters (of which there are not any who are not on the payroll, while opponents pack hearing rooms with hundreds of people opposed to this monstrosity) contend that the bill is bad for business and overturns the will of the voters. However, if they had not run a ballot initiative to avoid local approvals, we never would have gotten here. Ballot box legislation is never good policy and is part of the reason California’s finances are in such poor shape. The bill is the only way to correct this previous injustice.

To say that it will harm business in California is a stretch at best and an outright lie at worst. After construction, this dump will employ no more than two dozen people, hardly a justification for vetoing the bill. Further, the dump investors have known since day one that this was sacred land; there are no last minute surprises, they took the risk of investing money to overcome that obstacle. The fact that they have millions of dollars riding on the dump and losing it is bad for their business should not be seen as a reason to veto SB 833. It should be seen as a caution to other developers to respect concerns raised by Indian Tribes regarding proposed projects and not to think that they will go away if you throw enough money at it. 

The bottom line is no matter what the landfill proponents say about how thick or advanced their dump liner is – experts agree that all liners leak. Burying 30 million tons of trash will forever desecrate the sacred sites at Gregory Canyon and contaminate a pure drinking water source for eternity. Once an aquifer is compromised, it can never be cleaned and this is not a risk worth taking so a few investors can earn 30 years of profits from operating a landfill.

It is always great to be victorious in a campaign or to see your bill turn into law. But Gregory Canyon is much more than just an effort limit school administration official’s compensation or salvaging an individual business’s reputation; Gregory Canyon is about protecting what another culture has held sacred since the beginning of time and will continue to hold sacred for eternity. It is about protecting drinking water for generations to come; it is about protecting natural resources in a time they have never been more valuable; and it is about the future we want to create and taking the steps to make that happen. Hopefully Governor Jerry Brown sees the same future that nearly every member of the legislature sees.

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