Tajiguas Landfill Capacity Increase Project Under Scrutiny
The County of Santa Barbara’s Tajiguas Landfill, ill-sited within the ecologically sensitive Gaviota Coast region, has once again become the center of an environmental debate. The “Tajiguas Landfill Capacity Increase Project” (i.e. Expansion Project), currently proposed by the Resource Recovery and Waste Management Division (RRWMD) of the Santa Barbara Public Works Department that operates the Landfill, has raised significant concerns.
Background: Tajiguas Landfill is encircled by the Los Padres National Forest to the north, the Arroyo Hondo Preserve to the west, and the County’s Baron Ranch to the east. The landfill was sited in 1967 in an era with less stringent environmental standards, creating groundwater contamination from its unlined waste disposal areas in the Coastal Zone.
When the County Board of Supervisors approved the last major physical expansion in 2002, they pledged to find an alternative non-coastal alternative landfill site, but that process ended in failure. A significant portion of the present controversy surrounds the $150 million Resource Recovery Center (ReSource Center) that the Board of Supervisors approved in 2017 as an alternative to physical expansion. The ReSource Center was intended to extend Tajiguas Landfill’s life from 2026 to 2036 by diverting waste from the Landfill.
The Gaviota Coast Conservancy (GCC), together with highly respected experts in the solid waste field, opposed the ReSource Center over concerns that the chosen anaerobic digestion technology for the conversion of mixed-solid waste derived organic material into compost was unproven and less expensive lower-tech alternatives were feasible. GCC ultimately dismissed a lawsuit it filed against the County over the ReSource Center’s approval, after the Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution on 6/19/2018 committing not to expand Tajiguas Landfill and to seek other locations for residual disposal.
Now, Tajiguas Landfill is filling up faster than anticipated, and is still projected to reach capacity by 2026 even with the $150 million ReSource Center fully operational. The ReSource Center promised to divert 60% of municipal waste but the Draft Subsequent Environmental Impact Report (DSEIR) for the Expansion Project discloses that in actuality it is only diverting 31.35%, and the composting operation has encountered a litany of challenges including significant and persistent nuisance odors at the neighboring Arroyo Quemado neighborhood
The Proposed Expansion: RRWMD now proposes to expand Tajiguas Landfill by 14.25 acres and increase its permitted capacity by 6.1 million cubic yards. The expansion aims to extend the landfill’s estimated remaining life from 2026 to 2038. This project has sparked public debate and concern.
Doug Kern, the Executive Director of the Gaviota Coast Conservancy, strongly condemns the proposed landfill expansion, declaring, “The reckless pursuit of landfill expansion in such a delicate ecological region is an environmental travesty of the highest order. We worked with the County and believed in their commitment to finding another solution to our solid waste problem, rather than polluting this environmentally sensitive coastal area. Our organization has long been committed to safeguarding the precious Gaviota Coast for both current and future generations. The proposed project not only betrays those commitments but also flagrantly disregards the irreplaceable value of our natural heritage. GCC is greatly disappointed in the lack of imagination shown by this expansion proposal.”
Environmental Impact: The proposed expansion area currently serves as a habitat for protected wildlife species such as Crotch’s Bumblebee, the California Red-legged frog, and rare plant species, including Santa Barbara Honeysuckle and California brittle-bush scrub. The RRWMD’s DSEIR (which is now open for public comment unit Nov 13,2023) identifies significant impacts from removing habitat for these protected species and significant and unavoidable impacts to Crotch’s Bumblebee, as well as greenhouse gas emissions.
Due to impacts to protected wildlife, permits from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife may be required for the take of endangered species.
Legal Impediments: The Tajiguas Landfill Capacity Increase Project faces legal hurdles as well. Expansion necessitates a revision to the Solid Waste Facility Permit, which covers all operations at the landfill. The revision cannot be approved by State authorities until the facility comes into compliance with state standards and the numerous Notices of Violation (NOVs) involving odors and nuisance conditions experienced by nearby communities are resolved.
Furthermore, the Tajiguas Landfill Capacity Increase Project is at odds with the Board of Supervisor’s prior commitments, adopted County policy, and a settlement agreement with GCC. RRWMD has not addressed how the expansion can proceed in these circumstances.
Ana Citrin, GCC Legal and Policy Director, noted, “The 2018 settlement with Santa Barbara County marked a turning point in preserving the Gaviota Coast. More waste was to be diverted, the landfill would last longer without the need for expansion, and the Board of Supervisors vowed to find another landfill site. None of this has worked out as RRWMD promised, and impacts on the Arroyo Quemada community are unconscionable. Instead of expanding the landfill, the County should focus on fixing problems with the ReSource Center so it operates as promised, and should consider operational changes like residential food waste collection that can clean up our waste stream and increase diversion. The Gaviota Coast Conservancy remains committed to safeguarding our environment and will continue to oppose this environmentally insensitive project.”
Community Concerns: The Arroyo Quemada community, located in the vicinity of the landfill, has been heavily impacted by odors and nuisances emanating from the landfill operations. Their daily lives have been significantly affected, prompting an urgent need for resolution.
No Clear Alternatives: RRWMD has to date not outlined an alternative plan should the expansion request fail to secure required approvals. Calls from the GCC and others to focus on operational changes and increased source separation have yet to be meaningfully addressed.
Public Comments Deadline: The public can submit comments on the Draft Subsequent Environmental Impact Report (DSEIR) for the Tajiguas Landfill Capacity Increase Project until 5 PM on November 13, 2023. The DSEIR and associated documents are available here: https://www.countyofsb.org/
For additional background information on this project please review the following link: For More Information
About Gaviota Coast Conservancy: The Gaviota Coast Conservancy is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the rural character and environmental integrity of the Gaviota Coast for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations, as well as encouraging public access and recreation. Visit https://www.