Despite stated personal reservations, California Governor Jerry Brown has vetoed a bill that would have prevented a landfill in northern San Diego County’s Gregory Canyon on land considered sacred by the Pala Band of Mission Indians.
The landfill, which would cover 208 acres and operate for 30 years, was proposed about 20 years ago, and despite opposition by the Pala Band and environmentalists it has been approved by voters twice.
As reported in the North County Times, Brown expressed in a message accompanying the veto that his actions were guided by the principle that the state legislature should not intervene in a local matter—but he was clear about his feelings. “I am deeply concerned about the objections raised with respect to the sacred site,” he wrote. He added that “[t]his dispute pains me given the unspeakable injustices the native peoples have endured and the profound importance of their spirituality and connection to the land. There’s no question that more thought needs to be given to how we resolve this inherently difficult decision and to find ways for native people and their fellow Californians to coexist in an inexorably modernizing world.”
A fact sheet from savegregorycanyon.org explains the sacred nature of features of the area. Gregory Mountain, it reads, “is one of the resting places of Takwic, an important spiritual figure. For this reason, the mountain is also known as Takwic Puki, or Takwic’s House.” The fact sheet also cites as sacred Medicine Rock, a place for religious ritual, and the water of the San Luis Rey River.
Senate Bill 833 had been passed by the State Senate and Assembly earlier this year, and would have prohibited the construction of a landfill within 1,000 feet of a site considered sacred to a tribe or within 1,000 feet of the San Luis Rey River or any aquifer connected to it. Numerous individuals made statements of defiance after hearing of the veto. “The fight does not stop here,” said Pala Band chairman Robert Smith in a statement. “There is a reason that SB 833 received near unanimous support in both the Assembly and Senate and why it was endorsed by over two dozen tribes along with environmental, religious and planning organizations.”
“Our legislature came together to send a loud message … that a sacred Native American site should not be desecrated by building a dump in Gregory Canyon,” wrote State Senator Juan Vargas, author of SB 833. “If the Gregory Canyon dump is allowed to move forward and be built next to the San Luis Rey River, I believe this could lead to a tragedy, like the Love Canal incident, in our community.”
The landfill’s developer, Gregory Canyon, Ltd., still faces a lawsuit brought against the county Department of Environmental Health by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, RiverWatch and the Pala Band.