In the military, they like to use the phrase "acceptable losses." This refers to the idea that in war, gosh darn it, sometimes it's okie-dokie to sacrifice a few grunts, as long as the ends justify the means.
It's not a bad theory, unless you happen to be one of the grunts. Then the theory of "acceptable losses" is a real bitch.
The Pala Indians and a good chunk of North County know that feeling, as they eye plans to turn a 1,700-acre site near the San Luis Rey River into a massive trash dump. Supporters of the plan to dump millions of tons of garbage into Gregory Canyon say the risks to the local environment and the water supply are acceptable, which has done little to make the locals feel better about the possibility of three-headed toads emerging from their Jacuzzis some time in the near future.
The Palas and the thousands of residents and farmers in the San Luis River Valley are not thrilled with the plan to clog their roads with trash trucks and dump trash near an aquifer, which is why they have put Prop. B on the Nov. 2 ballot.
Prop. B seeks to overturn a strange 1994 vote, when apparently befuddled county-ites rushed to the polls to approve the Gregory Canyon dump, allowing the developers to skip those annoying public hearings. Since you rarely hear much passionate pro-landfill talk around the water cooler, it's probably safe to assume the vote was the result of a well-orchestrated, well-funded campaign by the project developers, who managed to insert a few local politicians into their pocket.
North County politicians and bureaucrats have no problem adopting a pro-dump stance, since the Gregory Canyon neighborhood is far away from golf courses and condo developments-in other words, the land of important people. Few doubt that if the landfill were planned for a canyon a few miles east of Del Mar, every Benz-drivin' Limbaugh-lover in North County would be joining the Sierra Club and launching fatwahs against landfill developers.
In contrast, the main constituents of the Gregory Canyon area are the Pala Indians, who resent that the county decided to put the trash dump two miles from their land. Now with a casino, the tribe has a lot more clout than it did in 1994. They have led the campaign against the dump, enlisting the aid of environmentalists and farmers concerned with the water supply.
"NIMBYs!" the trash dump supporters cry. How dare they try to stand in the way of trash progress! A few must sacrifice so we can all benefit, they say, under the theory that there is absolutely no other place on earth to dump our perfume-laced discharge. Apparently, the pro-garbage crowd has never been to El Centro.
The campaign over the future of Gregory Canyon has been a typical North County political hoedown, with legal battles over wording of the ballot measure and rhetoric that stops just short of calling the Palas "filthy redskins." Backers of the dump have spent millions trying to convince voters that the dump is a swell idea and the Palas are simply out to protect their casino.
As usual, it has been left to the Union-Tribune editorial board to carry the torch for the pro-garbage crowd. In its obligatory editorial blessing the dump plan and urging a no vote on Prop. B, the editorial staff concluded the garbage dump would actually be really cool for the local environment. "After the construction period," they explained in their usual tortured prose, "pollution from transporting waste will actually lessen, for the hauling distance will be far less." This suggests that saving a few hours a day of emissions from trash trucks will more than make up for the millions of pounds of garbage dumped in the canyons, an argument which hasn't swayed too many environmentalists.
The U-T also proclaimed that the project would generate "some $50 million to county coffers." The fact that different zoning may also generate revenue without turning the canyon into a garbage heap was dismissed by the U-T as "negligible," tossing aside the dozens of alternative, environmentally safe ways to develop the property-the type of wild, out-of-the-box thinking that appears to elude the U-T editorial board.
In similar fashion, the U-T dismissed any thought that the landfill may lead to increased water contamination. "It should go without saying that public officials, elected and otherwise, aren't in the business of poisoning the public water supply, if for no reason other than that they drink it, cook with it and bathe in it, too."
That passes for dry wit among the big thinkers of the U-T, and it would be a powerfully convincing argument, unless you've happened to dangle your feet in San Diego Bay, swim in Mission Bay or sip a cool drink from any number of local waterways that local politicians have assured us will be protected. History is full of bureaucrats selling out the locals for an "acceptable environmental risk" and a few dollars.
For the residents of the San Luis Rey River Valley, trust is a dicey issue when you're facing the prospect of sitting in your backyard smelling the odor of old diapers wafting on the ocean breeze.
Write to MsBeak1@aol.com and editor@SD citybeat.com.