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Friends, I have the most amazing news to share with you all: WE HAVE DEFEATED THE GREGORY CANYON LANDFILL!

On November 17, the Pala Band of Mission Indians completed the purchase of over 700 acres of the Gregory Canyon landfill property, including sacred Gregory Mountain (Chokla) and most of Gregory Canyon. This means that a dump in Gregory Canyon will never happen. Chokla, Medicine Rock, and other spiritual and cultural sites on the property will now be protected forever. Critical wildlife habitat, endangered species, and the San Luis Rey River will be spared the threat posed by millions of tons of polluting garbage.

Plans for the Gregory Canyon Landfill in San Diego County, which have been in the works since at least 1994, have officially been canceled in a major victory for the Pala Band of Mission Indians. The Native American tribe has fought the project for years because it would involve part of Gregory Mountain, which they consider sacred, as reported by The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Gregory Canyon Ltd. LLC sold about 700 acres of the 1,770-acre site to the Pala for $13 million. This involves the western side of the mountain — the tribes already owns the eastern side — and the canyon where the landfill would have been built.

The project has been tied up for years due to changing ownership, legal challenges, financial problems, permitting delays and many other factors. Developers would now like to use the remaining land for residential and commercial development, which the tribe supports.


Opponents argued the San Luis Rey River that runs beneath the site would eventually get polluted. Jurisdictions as far away as Oceanside use the groundwater that connects to the aquifer. The Pala Band of Mission Indians has a casino nearby, and the band relies on groundwater.

Robert Smith, chairman of the Pala Band, said its members voted this week to go ahead with the $13 million purchase of 700 acres on Gregory Mountain, in order to stop the dump.

“Yeah, we’ve been fighting it for over 20 years,” Smith said. “The main thing is protecting our water sources and ancestral burial grounds and village, so it’s a great accomplishment for the tribe.”

Shasta Gaughen, the environmental director and Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for Pala, said several Native American Indian bands regard Gregory Mountain as sacred, the legendary home of one of their spirit ancestors.

“We had to make that public for people to understand why it was so important that trash not to be piled on the side of Chok’la on Tauquitch’s home,” Gaughen said. “This is part of the spiritual and cultural tradition for all of the Luiseno people, for the Cupeno people, even for Cahuilla people. All those bands are related and they share a lot of the same origins and spiritual practices, so it was important to pretty much the entirety of Southern California.”


The original investors in Gregory Canyon had such trouble getting the permits for the landfill they were eventually foreclosed. A San Diego investment company, Sovereign Capital, bought the land last year for pennies on the dollar.

Todd A.Mikles of Sovereign Capital called the effort to build the landfill “a black hole” for previous investors.

“I think it’s over $100 million,” he said. “Definitely well over $100 million. The list of investors was quite long.”

In working with the Army Corps of Engineers in Washington on a long awaited permit for the project, Mikles learned about the 106 Review Process, which requires the Corps of Engineers to consult with tribes to weigh the cultural value of sites.

Mikles returned to the Pala Band to negotiate. The agreement they have reached allows the band to take possession of Gregory Mountain and allows Sovereign Capital to pursue a commercial and residential development on the remaining land, a little more than 1,000 acres.

“I think that’s where we decided we could do something different,” Mikles said. “And the tribe would support it because they feel the valley is ripe for development and they feel that would help them as well, so it was a win-win for both parties.”


– Image: Pala Band – A map of the Gregory Canyon site shows the area purchased by the Pala Band for $13 million, Nov. 18, 2016.

Mikles said his goal is to put an initiative on the ballot in 2018 to rezone the land. County spokesman Gig Conaughton said the land is currently zoned for a solid waste facility. It’s a unique zoning created in 1994 when the voters adopted Proposition C, establishing the site as a landfill site.

Gregory Canyon is just a few miles north of Lilac Hills where Accretive Investments failed to win — in spite of investing $5 million — voter approval for Measure B, an initiative on the November Ballot earlier this month that would have allowed a housing development in Valley Center.

“I think we’re different,“ Mikles said. “Lilac Hills was different because they didn’t have the infrastructure of roads. But at the entry of 76 and 15 there’s a lot of development with Palomar College and a lot of homes being developed there. A lot of infrastructure is being planned though Caltrans.”

Perhaps the biggest difference is that, unlike Lilac Hills, where the neighbors worked hard to keep the property rural, part of Sovereign Capital’s agreement with Pala is that the band will not oppose the project


This outcome was possible only with the cooperation of the new property owner, GCL, LLC, which retained ownership of the remaining portion of the property. Instead of building a landfill, with Pala’s renewed cooperation, GCL proposes a residential and commercial development in other areas of the property off of the mountain and outside of the canyon.

The protection of sacred and cultural sites and critical water sources were the primary reasons that Pala, other Tribes, environmental groups, and concerned citizens strongly opposed the proposed landfill. GCL’s residential and commercial development eliminates those impacts and is the type of alternative use of the property that Pala long urged developers to consider. GCL and Pala worked together to make this alternative use a viable option for the property.

This victory has been a very long time coming. It has been a difficult battle with many ups and downs, but through it all, I never lost hope. I knew I could always count on YOU, our friends and supporters, to be with us every step of the way. I am so happy to be able to share this incredible news with all of you. I want you to know how grateful I am, both personally and professionally, that you were with us throughout this fight. THANK YOU.











Anyone trying to expand an existing landfill, let alone build a new one, can expect it will take some time. Though the planning process for this one had been going on so long that even tribal representatives seemed surprised they had finally defeated the project. Whether this victory can be translated to anti-landfill sentiment elsewhere remains to be seen though it’s safe to say that most opposition groups don’t have that kind of money at their disposal to buy the land.

Now that the project isn’t happening, the county will need to reassess its plans, as consultants for Gregory Canyon previously predicted that regional capacity could run out within less than 10 years if the landfill wasn’t built. A recent study found that local residents generate more waste than any other urban region in the state with per capita numbers far higher than the national average. These figures were largely driven by cities other than San Diego, though increased diversion is also a focus there.

The city has set a goal of 75% diversion by 2020matching a statewide goal — and made this part of collection contracts it renewed earlier this year. While the city hasn’t taken the full steps of some others with “zero waste” goals, such as banning polystyrene food containers, it is closer to achieving its target than many others in the country.

Pala Band of Mission Indians

Gregory Canyon Ltd. LLC – State Water Resources Control Board

About — Save Gregory Canyon

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Army Corps of Engineers Gregory Canyon Permit Meeting — Pala …

Gregory Canyon Landfill – County of San Diego

Shasta Gaughen Gaughen Named Pala Tribe’s Environmental Directo

Sovereign Capital

SB 813 Senate Bill – INTRODUCED – California

Luiseño language\

Gregory Canyon Landfill | Deborah Small’s Ethnobotany Blog

With Pala Purchase, Landfill Plan For Gregory Canyon Is Dead

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Dump may face new regulatory hurdle – The San Diego Union-Tribune

Tribes vs. trash: The tangled tale of a landfill battle Capitol Weekly …

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