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Pala Tribe pleased by Superior Court judge's June 14 ruling injunction regarding Gregory Canyon

PALA –The Pala Band of Mission Indians and other foes of the controversial Gregory Canyon landfill scored a major victory when a Superior Court judge ruled that the permit authorizing the project was invalid.

The June14 ruling by San Diego Superior Court Judge Robert P. Dahlquist confirmed an earlier court finding that the permit was issued by the county in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act.

The 10-page ruling further declared that the county may not proceed with the project without first reconsidering issuance of the permit, a process that should require additional public hearings.

“We are gratified that the court has upheld our position in this very important case,” said Robert Smith, chairman of the Pala Band of Mission Indians. “We hope the proponents will finally come to their senses and acknowledge that this sacred site is not the place to build a trash dump.”

Dahlquist’s ruling, which followed a bench trial, casts in doubt the fate of the landfill, which has been at the center of a 16-year feud between its developer, Gregory Canyon Ltd., and a variety of tribal groups, environmental organizations and other opponents.

The proposed 300-acre landfill is located in northern San Diego County on State Route 76, approximately three miles east of Interstate 15 and two miles southwest of the community of Pala. The pristine, undeveloped canyon borders the San Luis Rey River and lies along the western slope of Gregory Mountain.

The Pala people consider the area a sacred site and home of a restless spirit named Taakwic, who appears in a ball of fire to collect the souls of the dead. Besides cultural concerns, the landfill is a threat to surface and groundwater supplies; includes habitat for several sensitive and endangered species; and would create traffic congestion and other problems in the peaceful area.

In addition, some public officials question the need for the landfill, which proponents say would accept up to 1 million tons of solid waste annually for 30 years. San Diego County Supervisor Pam Slater-Price recently noted that the region’s successful recycling programs have left many existing landfills with ample capacity.

Dahlquist’s ruling follows a legal tug-of-war that has raged since 2004, when county officials approved an environmental impact report for the project and later issued an operating permit. Pala tribal leaders, along with the City of Oceanside and the environmental group RiverWatch, sued, challenging the adequacy of the EIR.

Ruling on that challenge in 2005, then-San Diego County Superior Court Michael M. Anello declared that approval of the EIR had violated the California Environmental Quality Act.

Dahlquist replaced Anello when Anello was appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush. In his order last week, Dahlquist ruled that Anello had ordered the permit rescinded and chided the county for relying on a “hyper-technical, and out-of-context, reading” of Anello’s decision in insisting that the permit remained valid.

Dahlquist also issued an injunction barring the developer from proceeding with construction until a new permit is issued.

For details on the fight to save Gregory Canyon, visit


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