In a major surprise, Supervisor Efren Carrillo joined Shirlee Zane today in rejecting the sale of the Sonoma County landfill to an Arizona firm. The board needed four votes to sell this public asset. It only received three.


Many applauded the outcome, but don’t expect that this means the county will seek to reopen the landfill on its own. Sonoma County still lacks the financial resources to do that.

“I don’t see us in a financial position to open it, frankly,” Carrillo told me this afternoon. “We may have to look at (going out to bid) for outhaul contracts.”


For that matter, the county also lacks the $11 million needed to formally close and seal the landfill. As I noted in an earlier blog, the state has ordered the county to either sell the landfill or close it immediately. That letter, sent Friday, is concerning to staff and the board.

When I talked to Carrillo this afternoon, he was in the process of writing letters to Assemblyman Wes Chesbro, a former member of the state Integrated Waste Management Board, and Assemblyman Jared Huffman seeking their help in getting an extension on this quick closure mandate. He said the cities in the county also “are really going to have to participate with us on this.”


The outcome was a surprise because a straw vote taken Sept. 29 showed unanimous support for a sale. Zane later indicated that she was likely to oppose the deal although Carrillo didn’t tip his cards until today.

So what was the difference?


“For me what it came down to was really trying to think of this in a long-term context and not handing down the issue to a private entity,” he told me. “The time to resolve these problems is now . . . The 20-year contract was just too long for me.”


He said he thought the board was presenting “a new direction in how we look at trash.”

He wants the county to set “the gold standard” of 100 percent diversion. But the sale to Republic came with a promise to ship the county’s garbage to the landfill, once Republic got state permission to reopen it, for the next 20 years. The way the contract worked, if residents lowered their waste disposal, their rates went up. There also was no financial incentive for Republic to reduce the waste stream.


“I hope this is going to spark the debate to really look at diversion in a more serious way,” Carrillo said. “We have momentum. The community is paying attention and, quite frankly, the people don’t want us to take a back seat on this.”


Is it possible that Republic could come back with an updated offer? Yes. “But as far as I’m concerned,” he said, “we are looking at a new direction.”


– Paul Gullixson