Tuesday, February 7, 2023

‘All They Wanted Me to Do Was Act as an Uncritical Conduit for their Point of View and Their Priorities’—Our Reporter Responds to Criticisms by Laytonville Environmentalist

The Laytonville Landfill Cap [Image from an Environmental Protection Agency inspection document]

Welcome to our letters to the editor/opinion section. To submit yours for consideration, please send to matthewplafever@gmail.com. Please consider including an image to be used–either a photograph of you or something applicable to the letter. However, an image is not necessary for publication.

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

Yesterday we published a letter to the editor from Jon Spitz, the Chair of the Laytonville Alliance For Environmental Justice, written in response to an article we posted on January 2, 2022. Spitz wrote, “I was dismayed by the lack of critical reporting by Sarah Reith in her report.” 

If you haven’t yet read the article Sarah Reith wrote or Spitz's response to the article, you can click on the appropriate linked text to be taken to each one. 

Below is Sarah’s rebuttal to Spitz's letter to the editor:

Mr. Spitz has no reason to expect me to transcribe the information he and his colleagues provided me as if only they are in possession of the relevant points.

I did speak with Spitz and three other members of the Laytonville Alliance for Environmental Justice. Spitz assured me that he would provide me with documents backing up the statements Peggy Hoaglin made to me, as well as pictures documenting what she described. What I got instead were letters chastising various people for not doing exactly what LAFEJ wanted them to do; for not agreeing with the group one hundred percent; and for not being qualified, in their eyes, to do the work they think needs to be done. 

During our interview, LAFEJ members treated me to extreme levels of irrelevant minutiae about various agencies, such as how the water board is connected to CalEPA; how monumental it is that someone thought there were pulp mills instead of timber mills in Laytonville; and how years ago, a government agency conducted a survey that was disastrously flawed because one of the people administering it was underaged. But when I asked one member, who has scientific training, to explain some information about chemical testing on a single sheet she gave me from a 2016 report, she barely deigned to acknowledge my question, let alone provide a satisfactory response. I need answers to questions in order to prepare a critical report. 

When I called and emailed GreenAction about their work in Laytonville, including the health survey, I got no response. I can’t just cite a sort-of scientific  survey that’s attributed to a pastor and a non-profit advocacy organization. Those aren’t authoritative sources.

As for “trivializing health concerns,” Ms. Hoaglin doesn’t have any business discussing the health problems of her neighbors, who called me in distress after learning that she had been publicly opining on the causes of their illnesses without their permission. 

The county side of the landfill contains a network of ten wells that are in fact being regularly monitored by the environmental consulting firm SHN on behalf of the county. Plenty of documents about this are publicly available on the State Water Resources Control Board’s Geo Tracker link. I am fairly certain this indicates that CalEPA does not regard the reporting as amateurish. It is very typical for government agencies to outsource this kind of work to consultants, and to cite it in official correspondence, which I relied upon in my rigorously well-sourced article.

It is insulting for Mr. Spitz to say that I “inadvertently” made his case for him when I quoted a reliable source instead of him and his colleagues, as if I have no idea what I am doing when I cite people who are credible instead of those who impose upon me. It is not my job to make anyone’s case for them. I am not a propagandist.

As for the crowning imposition: at the end of our interview, the LAFEJ members kindly offered to show me the landfill, which was just a few minutes away from my next appointment. I soon realized, to my horror, how foolish and naive I had been when I told them where I was going next. After I took a few pictures of the site, all four of them piled into a car and actually followed me to my next interview, which was on tribal land. 

It is extremely difficult for white reporters like me to establish rapport with tribal people, because they have every reason in the world to avoid us. We have a reputation for bringing about unseemly clamor, which was well-deserved in this case.

It’s the only thing about the story that I am ashamed of: that I wasn’t quick or aggressive enough to chase away a carload of pushy white people so I could present myself on my own merits, as respectfully as I could.

But it is obvious that no one has any grounds to expect respectful treatment from LAFEJ, unless they are content to serve as the organization’s publicity arm, treating all other sources with utmost skepticism. All they wanted me to do was act as an uncritical conduit for their point of view and their priorities. Now they have chosen to denounce me in public for failing to fulfill their unreasonable expectation.

The only thing I am confused about is why they would expect to be taken seriously.

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6 COMMENTS

  1. The rebuff (response) of this “journalist” is so emotionally volatile it’s akin to an abandoned landfill; oozing negativity. Community activism and defense are always emotionally charged issues. If the cancer rate is at all elevated by one or more deaths in the vicinity by cause of this landfill then there is a murderer in the Laytonville township. Please be a bit more respectful of the emotions of others without letting them get to yours so easily.
    You’ve left me sickened.

    • Your response sounds like fear mongering on top of fear mongering and excuses for inappropriate behavior! Saying “there is a murderer” and “of course emotions were elevated”. The fact that Sarah wrote an article and is bringing attention to this said ‘issue’ shows that she is aware of the importance of reporting on environmental issues . But b/c she didn’t report the OPINION of a person/group (with zero credibility or actual facts) then she is being pinned as a non believer or the enemy. Sounds like some cult shit to me! This has been going on far too long and the only thing that the real evidence and testing shows is that there is no cancer causing agents found in or around this landfill and in the groundwater. The dump is a dump and of course it is toxic by nature but that does not prove that anything is leaking in the groundwater and poisoning people! LAFEJ and its cronies need too stop the fear mongering and find a relevant issue to get behind and help where help is needed if they really care about the health and well being of our community!

  2. At a recent LAMAC meeting I personally witnessed the exact experience that Sarah describes in this rebuttal. I also witnessed John Spitz and a woman who was with LAFEJ spout all kinds of theories and statements without once piece of evidence for reference or proof at this meeting. They seemed to be very angry and dead set on making a point (their point) that there was/is some kind of conspiracy going on, but again with zero proof! I watched them come unglued on Mr. Shields and from my perspective were acting like bullies and being hostile for no known reason.I wasn’t a huge fan of Sarahs original article on this subject b/c it seemed to be unfinished and unnecessary. I know for a fact the people in the community and the professionals conducting these tests have every reason to care about this matter and report any findings that are pertinent to the health and well being of our community. It seems as though these few in the LAFEJ and Peggy are wanting to find something that is not there and by any means necessary, including but not limited to harassment, defamation, bullying, trespassing,etc. LAFEJ are pushing the theories of a very small group of people but for what purpose I do not know. I do not believe they have pure intentions or actually care one bit about facts.They only serve themselves and their beliefs which so far seem to be only based on conspiracy.

  3. I appreciate any report on this issue at all, because as a 40 year life long resident of this county I had no idea this was even a matter. I can’t be the only one. Regardless of what sectors of the community are affected most and how, we as a community at large are more aware of a rural ‘out of site and mind for most’ problem.
    WE ALL STILL CONTRIBUTE to global industrial society’s waste and consumption cycle.

  4. I originally submitted the response below as a letter-to-the-editor reality check to Mendofever reporter Sarah Reith’s hysterical rebuttal to our Laytonville Alliance For Environmental Justice (LAFEJ) critique of her uncritical report on the Laytonville dump/landfill, but Mendofever editor Matthew LaFever chose to relegate us to the comments section:

    “After mulling this over, I [Mathew] think the proper place for this is in the comment section. It feels self-indulgent for us to go back and forth and not be of interest to my readers. My readers just aren’t paying that much attention.”

    So, for the record, I address this letter to those Mendofever readers who are paying attention to this important story that is brewing up here in the North County.

    With regard to Mendofever reporter Sarah Reith’s rebuttal to our LAFEJ critique of her report on the Laytonville dump/landfill: usually in a rebuttal one presents evidence to refute the claims made by the critic, but Reith did not refute a single contention we made. Here is a list of our claims that Reith failed to refute in her rebuttal:

    1) She made no mention in her report that 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. These are the very people for whom LAFEJ is advocating.

    2) She trivialized LAFEJ founder Peggy Hoaglin’s health concerns by not mentioning that Hoaglin lived with an “open burn dump” in her back yard for 25 years, and over the years she has witnessed many of her family, friends and neighbors who lived in the shadow of the dump get sick with cancers and die. She herself has a rare brain disease. In Reith’s rebuttal, she doubles down on her disrespect of Hoaglin. You should be ashamed of yourself.

    3) She made no mention of a health survey we provided her 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 than the average cancer rate in California. Instead, Reith chose to suppress this very important piece of evidence.

    4) She made no mention of the history of the Laytonville dump, that it was constructed in 1968 before local dumps were regulated and it has no lining on the bottom to prevent rainwater from infiltrating through the household garbage and industrial waste into the groundwater, and that the cap built over the it to prevent rainwater from flowing through leaks like sieve.

    5) She made no mention of the fact that CalRecycle, the State agency charged with managing these old legacy dump/landfills, falsely claimed that the land “within one mile” North of the dump is “unoccupied,” when there is an entire neighborhood of homes there. By leaving out this critical information, Reith has perpetuated this CalRecycle lie that the people for whom we (LAFEJ) advocate don’t even exist.

    6) After canceling us in this way, Reith then decided it was unnecessary to report on the very reasonable request we have made to CalEPA: that they provide the same level of support for the people living on the unincorporated land adjacent to the dump/landfill, as they are providing to the people living on the Cahto Tribe Rancheria. While the technical and political issues regarding the Laytonville dump/landfill are necessarily complex, our request to CalEPA is simply to apply environmental justice.

    Instead of actually rebutting LAFEJ’s critique of her report, Reith whines about how we overwhelmed her with too much information, and she complains that LAFEJ expects her to transcribe the information that I and my colleagues provided her “as if only [we] are in possession of the relevant points.” Well, we’ll let Mendofever readers be the judge of whether points 1 through 6 above are relevant or not, but in our critique of Reith’s report, we never once suggest that only our point of view is relevant. In fact, we specifically acknowledged points made by Cahto Tribe environmental consultant Dietrick McGinnis and Laytonville County Water District manager Jim Shields, whom Reith also interviewed. We don’t want only our point of view told, but we do want our point of view to be told. Instead, Sarah Reith chose to cancel us.

    Sincerely,

    Jon Spitz, Chair
    Laytonville Alliance For Environmental Justice

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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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