Saturday, September 23, 2023

Laytonville Environmental Activist Is ‘Dismayed’ at Our Journalist’s ‘Lack of Critical Reporting’—Letter to the Editor

The Site of the now defunct Laytonville Landfill [Photography by Sarah Reith]

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Remember opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect that of MendoFever nor have we checked the letters for accuracy.

In response to an article we published on January 2, 2022 written by Sarah Reith regarding the environmental impact of the former Laytonville Landfill, Jon Spitz, the Chair of the Laytonville Alliance For Environmental Justice, sent us the following letter to the editor stating, "I was dismayed by the lack of critical reporting by Sarah Reith in her report.”

We will post Sarah Reith’s rebuttal piece tomorrow. Below is Mr. Spitz’s response to Sarah’s original article:

Letter to the Editor,

As Chairperson of the Laytonville Alliance For Environmental Justice (LAFEJ), I was dismayed by the lack of critical reporting by Sarah Reith in her report, “Cahto Tribe Demands Groundwater Testing at the Defunct Laytonville Landfill,” published in the January 2, 2023, Mendofever.

The sole purpose of LAFEJ is to advocate for Laytonville residents who do not live on the Cahto Tribe Rancheria to the South and East of the Laytonville dump/landfill, that is, people who live on the unincorporated land to the North and West which is administered by Mendocino County. Reading Reith’s entire article, you wouldn’t even know there is a whole neighborhood of people living on the unincorporated land to the North of the dump/landfill, and a family ranch to the West.

The only comments from LAFEJ quoted by Reith were from Peggy Hoaglin telling her story of how in the 1980s ash and smoke emanating from dump fires caused her to experience exhaustion, headaches, and flu-like symptoms for days afterwards, and how she protested to close the dump 30 years ago in 1993. Hoaglin’s comments were taken completely out of context by Reith. As we (LAFEJ) informed her, for 25 years the Laytonville dump/landfill operated as an “open burn dump” similar to the “burn pits” in Iraq that have caused severe health problems to US soldiers who served there. Without this important context, Reith has trivialized Hoaglin’s health concerns.

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We provided Reith with a health survey conducted in 2018 by the environmental justice group GreenAction that indicated a cancer rate over three times higher in the area around the dump/landfill as the average cancer rate in California. Reith made no mention of this health survey in her article, instead choosing to discount Hoaglin’s health concerns as unsubstantiated because someone she spoke to said their health problems were not attributable to the dump/landfill. Again, by leaving out important context, Reith has trivialized Hoaglin’s health concerns related to the dump/landfill.

Reading Reith’s report, you wouldn’t know that the Laytonville dump was constructed in 1968 before local dumps were regulated and the dump has no lining on the bottom to prevent rainwater from infiltrating through the household garbage and industrial waste into the groundwater. You also wouldn’t know that the cap built over the dump/landfill to prevent rainwater from flowing through has a history of failure letting rainwater seep in. Without this relevant context that we provided Reith for her report, the general public can’t possibly understand why we Laytonville residents are so concerned about the dump/landfill contaminating groundwater.

Reading Reith’s report, you wouldn’t know that CalRecycle, the State agency charged with managing these old legacy dump/landfills, has falsely claimed that the land “within one mile” North of the dump is “unoccupied,” when in fact there is an entire neighborhood of homes there. Without this relevant context that we provided to Reith, the general public can’t possibly understand why local residents feel so ignored by State authorities.

The Laytonville Alliance For Environmental Justice is asking for CalEPA (California Environmental Protection Agency) to provide the same level of support services for people living on the unincorporated land as for people living on the Cahto Rancheria. Currently, CalEPA is working with the Cahto Tribe to put in “additional groundwater monitoring locations” on the Rancheria, but they are providing no such support services for people living on the unincorporated land. In interviews with Cahto Tribe environmental consultant Dietrick McGinnis, and with Laytonville County Water District manager Jim Shields, Reith inadvertently makes our case for us. McGinnis acknowledges that the entire perimeter of the dump/landfill must be tested and that a proper testing regime would cost up to two million dollars. Shields acknowledges that it is the Laytonville County Water District that is testing wells on the unincorporated land adjacent to the dump/landfill even though it is not their responsibility to do so. Residents of Laytonville should not have to depend on the Laytonville County Water District with its limited funds and lack of expertise monitoring toxic waste sites, that is a job for CalEPA.

The people living on the unincorporated land to the North and West of the dump/landfill are not represented by the Cahto Tribe, they are represented by 3rd District Supervisor John Haschak. At the end of Reith’s report, she seems to be satisfied that the Laytonville County Water District’s testing is sufficient, and she seems surprised Supervisor Haschak is requesting that CalEPA support more testing on the unincorporated land adjacent to the dump/landfill. Considering all the pertinent information Reith chose to ignore in her report, it’s no wonder she’s so confused.


Jon Spitz, Chair
Laytonville Alliance For Environmental Justice

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  1. I live on the reservation.and I know that this dump is causing my people to get cancer.you people who are in charge of the dump knew this dump was not good.and all this time .oh I should say years have passed by and you now want to take care of it.come on people get your shit right.we have lost a lot of our people to cancer.

  2. Jon- You’re upset about her “Lack of critical reporting?” Are you serious? Reith wrote a great, non-biased article and stuck to the facts and that’s her job as a reporter.
    She didn’t take sides, she just stuck to the facts. Apparently she took the high road and did not fuel the flames of propaganda, CONJECTURE or conspiracy which sounds
    like what you really were hoping for from a reporter writing an article about this.

    By the way, can we step back and look at the big picture for a minute here and agree that it’s probably not the best thing to live next to a dump? Yeah probably not the best idea.

    So why did they continue to live there if they felt that the dump was responsible for compromising their health? If I lived there and was concerned about
    my health, so much so that I thought my husband died because of it, you know what I would do?…….wait for it……………….. I WOULD MOVE!!!!!! There’s a concept! Where the personal responsibility? All the water tests prove the water is fine. You can’t argue with science.

    So in conclusion.

    1) Did they have much less strict environmental regulations regarding dumps, their operation and their construction back in the good old days?

    2) Can we change what was done in the past?

    3) Is the only way for the area or any past dump site for that matter, to be completely remediated, is to dig up thousands of yards of earth and trash underground, catapult it to the sun so it can burn up and then replace all the earth with fresh, non contaminated earth?
    Yes but not gonna happen.

    4) Does it suck to live by a dump?

    5) Could people move on with their lives and if say you really wanted to not live by a dump could you?
    Yes. No one is stopping you.

    6) Is the dump responsible for the bad health of the people in this area?
    Maybe and maybe not. There’s no way to prove it.

    7) Is it the governments job to undo everything that was done in the past regardless of how much it would cost?
    No. That is unrealistic.

    8) If you feel your personal health is at risk and are not satisfied with the speed or intensity or lack thereof of environmental regulators to remediate the site because of lack of funding can you move?

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MendoFever Staff
MendoFever Staff
Editor's Note: Whenever an article's byline reads "MendoFever Staff", the contents of that article were not composed by any of our reporters. Types of writing that will be attributed to "MendoFever Staff" include press releases, letters to the editor, op-eds, obituaries— essentially writing that is not produced by a reporter.

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