Gregory Canyon combatant reflects on 28-year dump war
By Logan Jenkins | November 18, 2016
North Countys Hundred Years War, I wrote in 2009.
Long after my earthly remains are buried, Gregory Canyon
will still be working its way through a permitting process
only Kafka could love.
be praised, I was wrong. I lived long enough to see the damned
dump declared dead.
requiem for the landfill, delivered in the form of a press
release, was greeted with a chorus of cheers in North County.
most conspicuous winner, of course, is the Pala Band of Mission
Indians, the tribe that bought the western side of Gregory
Mountain and Gregory Canyon, a pastoral 700-acre portion of
the 1,700-acre proposed landfills footprint.
line, a sacred Indian site, a cultural touchstone for several
regional tribes, has been returned to the people who revere
part of the purchase, the tribe promised not to oppose a large
mixed-use development on the 1,000 acres near state Route
76, which might be an easier sell than, say, the more remote
Lilac Hills Ranch that was rebuffed in the last election.
future is always hard to predict, but this part of the bargain
with GCL LLC does not appear terribly Faustian. (Its
anyones guess if a general plan amendment for a large
development will win approval. Using the land as a mitigation
bank or selling to a conservation group are options that may
come into play.)
cast of memorable characters has performed parts in the Gregory
Canyon drama. The city of Oceanside joined the opposition,
as did former Supervisor Pam Slater-Price. (Californias
governors, on the other hand, have turned their backs following
countywide votes of approval.) Everett DeLano, whom Ive
dubbed the NIMBY lawyer, has been the longtime counselor for
RiverWatch, an environmental group that fought the project.
the other side of the ledger, memory darts from the late Richard
Chase who for years was the face of the landfill, a
charming defender of the indefensible to his former
wife, Nancy Chase, the unsinkable spokesperson who always
expressed absolute confidence that Gregory Canyon would be
built despite countless legal and financial obstacles.
as I review the last quarter of a century, a period that roughly
parallels my time as a columnist in North County, I keep returning
to the last Trash Bag standing.
called Ruth Harber Thursday at her home close by Gregory Canyon.
had learned about 45 minutes before I rang that the specter
that has bedeviled her for some 28 years has gone poof. (About
17 years ago, when we were walking Gregory Canyon, Id
told her the dump would never be built. She was pessimistic,
even fatalistic. In her view, it was David vs. Goliath and
there was nothing gigantic about her team. But the long odds
only made her more determined.)
youre a survivor, I told her over the phone.
more ways than one, she replied.
Jewish girl during World War II, she hid from the Nazis in
Belgium (an Anne Frank who made it). A married woman in her
early 60s, she moved to her bucolic corner of Valley Center
to grow avocados. Three years later, a woman approached her
to sign a petition opposing a proposed dump and attend a meeting
in Pauma Valley.
did I know then that I was embarking on a fight against what
came to be known as Gregory Canyon, she told me.
joined forces with five remarkable women who became known
as the Trash Bags, a title adopted with good-humored
pride. They were the most remarkable group of NIMBYs Ive
ever met, women with grit, Mensa-level smarts and time and
energy to fight. Warriors with bulging manila folders, they
were willing to attend innumerable meetings, delve deep into
geology and topography.
were the times when the phone and fax machines were our only
weapons to stay informed, she recalled. There
were no emails then. I used to write pamphlets and went regularly
down to Pala to use their copy machines and also recruited
my husband to make copies at work before he retired. I used
my electric Smith-Corona to write. And, boy, did I write letters!
Even to the Pope. Remember that? When the Catholic Diocese
of San Diego ignored my pleas to join other religious organizations
asking that they protect the ancient beliefs of the Pala Indians,
I wrote to the Pope and got a response. Next thing: the Diocese
complied. Those were the days.
scores of letters to the editor were gems of the genre. Concise,
other Trash Bags are gone, either away or to the other side.
Only Harber remains on the barricade.
been 28 years since this sordid story began, she said.
Im now 88 still around and ready
to fight more battles had it been necessary.
its no longer necessary. Harber can rest easy. The second
war in her life is over.
in the glow, she even finds it in her heart to throw a bone
to an undeserving watchdog.
have been our champion even if we were called NIMBYs too many
times to count, she told me. I was proud to be
one. Who else would save our environment if there were no
called DeLano to ask him what hell always remember about
loved recalling a water-quality meeting about seven years
ago in Escondido City Hall, a gathering in which high-school
students had been hired to pretend that they supported the
landfill. (Harber uncovered that embarrassing fact and fed
the tasty morsel to me.)
one point in the proceedings, Harber stood up and started
questioning the panel of bureaucrats, holding their feet to
the fire until they nearly cried.
shed finished, Harbers husband stood up and said,
Im her husband and you think this is something?
I have to live with this!
the husband of a strong woman, I have to ask: Who wouldnt
give anything to live with something like that?