California outsources its toxic waste

Your guide to California policy and politics
Ben Christopher BY Ben Christopher January 25, 2023
Presented by American Property Casualty Insurance Association, Dairy Cares, Climate-Smart Agricultural Partnership and New California Coalition

California outsources its toxic waste

California likes to pat itself on the back for being a leader in protecting the environment. 

Every year, California workers dig up hundreds of thousands of tons of soil contaminated with things like lead, petroleum hydrocarbons and chemicals like DDT. The waste is so toxic, California considers it to be hazardous and requires that it be disposed of at a facility specially designed to handle such dangerous material.

Or, at least, that would be the requirement if the waste stayed in California. It often doesn’t.

A CalMatters investigation found that, for decades, California businesses and government agencies have taken hazardous waste over the border and dumped it at regular landfills in states with weaker environmental regulations.

Among the findings:

  • Much of the waste is going to landfills in Arizona and Utah with fewer safeguards and less oversight than permitted hazardous waste disposal facilities.
  • Two of the most popular destinations are next to Native American reservations. One of those landfills has a spotty environmental history, Arizona records show. 
  • One of the biggest out-of-state dumpers is the state’s own Department of Toxic Substances Control which, since 2018, took more than 105,000 tons of lead-contaminated soil from the area around the Exide cleanup in Los Angeles County and disposed of it in Arizona. Most went to a landfill that Arizona regulators labeled in 2021 an “imminent and substantial threat.”

CalMatters reporter Robert Lewis and photo editor Miguel Gutierrez traveled to Arizona and Utah, documenting where much of the Golden State’s toxic waste ends up. The Department of Toxic Substances Control said its decision to take the waste to Arizona is driven by cost and acknowledged the agency doesn’t really know how the out-of-state landfills are managed. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office wouldn’t comment.

David Harper, a member of the Colorado River Indian Tribes, questioned why the Golden State would dump its toxic waste so close to the reservation, which straddles the border between California and Arizona.

  • Harper: “If it was not a problem, why didn’t they keep it themselves? Why does it have to come here? Why isn’t it in California?”

CalMatters covers the Legislature: With the state Legislature back in session, CalMatters has you covered with guides to keep track of your lawmakers, explore its record diversity, make your voice heard and understand how state government works. We also have Spanish-language versions for the Legislature’s demographics and the state government explainer.  


1 What’s different about Monterey Park, Half Moon Bay suspects

A vigil outside Monterey City Hall for the victims of a mass shooting that left 11 people dead and 9 others injured at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio Monterey Park on Jan. 23, 2023. Photo by Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters
Residents hold a candlelight vigil outside Monterey City Hall for the victims of a mass shooting two days earlier that left 11 people dead in Monterey Park on Jan. 23, 2023. Photo by Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters

The two massacres that left 18 dead in California are, in a lot of ways, hauntingly familiar.

A man (it’s almost always a man) with a semi-automatic weapon (it’s almost always a semi-automatic) walks into a place presumed to be safe — in Monterey Park, a dance hall, in Half Moon Bay, a farm. Law enforcement scramble to gather information. Stunned neighbors wonder how such horror could visit their community. Journalists search for a motive and elected officials call for change.

But in at least two respects, these mass shootings are different: Both suspects were elderly, and both were Asian.

Huu Can Tran, who authorities identified as the man who killed 11 attendees at a Monterey Park ballroom dance studio before killing himself, was 72 years old. Chunli Zhao, charged with the killing of 7 in and around a Half Moon Bay mushroom farm, is 66.

“Definitely unique.” That’s how James Densley, a criminologist and co-founder of the The Violence Project, which maintains a database of mass public shootings across the U.S. since 1966, described the profile of the Monterey Park killer to the Los Angeles Times.

According to that database, the average age of a mass shooter is about 33. Of the 188 incidents in which the age of the killer was recorded, only 2 were older than 65.

The fact that both Zhao and Tran are Asian also breaks from the typical mass shooter profile. Only 6% of the shooters in the Violence Project database are of Asian descent. More than half are white.

  • Stop AAPI Hate, a nonprofit advocating against anti-Asian racism, in a statement: “The identity of the shooters in both of these recent massacres does not and should not delegitimize or diminish our pain and fear.”
  • Pastor Raymond Chang, president of the Asian American Christian Collaborative on Twitter: “Something is radicalizing our elders and leading them to procure guns to enact deadly violence.”

Radio silence: It took five hours after the shooting in Monterey Park before law enforcement alerted the public that a gunman was on the loose. During that interval, the shooter stormed into a nearby ballroom in Alhambra and was, thankfully, disarmed by 26-year-old Brandon Tsay.

Last year, the U.S. House passed a bill that would have created an Active Shooter Alert Network, designed to blast an Amber-alert like notification to cell phones in a targeted area. The bill died in the Senate. Rep. Mike Thompson, a Napa Democrat, told the Associated Press he plans to reintroduce the proposal this year.

  • Thompson: “I think the fact that people were left in the lurch in this situation for an awful long time speaks to the need for the bill.”

2 Biden and Bonta go after Google

A sign outside of Google Store Chelsea in Manhattan, New York City on Nov. 17, 2021. Photo by Andrew Kelly, Reuters
A sign outside of Google Store Chelsea in Manhattan, New York City on Nov. 17, 2021. Photo by Andrew Kelly, Reuters

In a complaint filed on Tuesday, federal prosecutors, the California Department of Justice and attorneys general in seven other states accused Google of using “anticompetitive, exclusionary, and unlawful means to eliminate or severely diminish any threat to its dominance over digital advertising technologies” — and seek to order the tech giant to split from its powerful digital ad platform. 

Specifically, the legal team accused the California tech behemoth that once defined its corporate brand with the edict-turned-slogan “don’t be evil” of engaging in a decades-long “systematic campaign” to buy up its competitors, “force” clients to use only Google services and wield “mutually reinforcing monopoly positions” over both advertisers and web publishers.

The lawsuit included a throwback to the trust-busting statutes of the Progressive Era. Prosecutors asked a federal judge in Virginia to order the company to sever itself from its “Ad Manager” suite, a platform that automatically connects websites with advertising space to advertisers looking for specific consumers.

With this litigation, President Biden is maintaining the acrimonious relationship between Donald Trump’s White House and Silicon Valley tech giants. It also shows a new willingness by the Biden administration to reclaim the government’s long dormant antitrust powers.

Attorney General Rob Bonta, whose department joined the case, has also been on an antitrust crusade lately. Last fall, California’s top prosecutor took Amazon to court for alleged anti-competitive practices. A year earlier, his office sued Google over its app store policies. He’s also taken a skeptical eye toward a proposed Albertsons-Kroger merger.

  • Bonta: “Google’s anticompetitive practices and obsessive need for control of ad tech markets has not only controlled pricing, but has stifled creativity in a space where innovation is crucial.”

In a written response published on the company’s blog, Google Vice President Dan Taylor accused the Department of Justice of trying to “pick winners and losers in” the advertising sector.

  • Taylor: “Antitrust cases shouldn’t penalize companies that offer popular, efficient services, particularly in difficult economic times.”

These are indeed difficult economic times for Mountain View’s Google. Last week, Google’s parent company, Alphabet, joined a parade of shrinking tech companies and announced that it was laying off 12,000 employees — about 6% of its workforce. Reportedly, 1,845 of those employees were in California.

3 Would a CA wealth tax cause an exodus?

Illustration by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters; iStock, Reuters
Illustration by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters; iStock, Reuters

A proposal to slap the wealthiest tenth-of-one-percent of Californians with a tax on all their wealth has been introduced — again.

Assemblymember Alex Lee, a Milpitas Democrat with a penchant for introducing big, bold, probably-hopeless bills, tried this out last year with no success. But this time he has company: Liberal Democrats have introduced similar proposals in seven other blue states. The stated goal: Make the tax system fairer and shore up the state’s diminished budget.

You already know the counterargument: Tax the jet-setting 23,000 households at the top of the state’s wealth distribution and they’ll simply leave for lower-tax climes. And that will deprive the state of tax revenue.

  • California Taxpayers Association CEO Robert Gutierrez: “The top 5% of income earners pay 70% of the personal income tax… if even a few of those taxpayers rethink California as a place to live, that does have an impact on the [state] budget.”

Is that true? CalMatters economy reporter Grace Gedye looked at the research.

No spoilers, but here’s the quick summary: It’s complicated.

At the other end of the income spectrum: Fast food workers.

A new law creating a council to set their wages and give them more say on their working conditions officially will be put on ice until at least the November 2024 election. Secretary of State Shirley Weber announced Tuesday that an industry coalition had collected enough valid signatures to qualify a referendum, putting the fate of the law in voters’ hands. 

No matter the outcome of that election, you can count the news as a victory for fast food restaurants: California law puts any law that qualifies for a referendum on hold until voters weigh in.

  • Angelica Hernandez, a Los Angeles labor activist with SEIU, the union that sponsored the bill: “Corporations are attempting to exploit our state’s referendum process and silence half a million fast-food workers — but we are going to win again.”

CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Will legislation to impose “wealth taxes” on the fortunes of very rich Californians generate new revenue, or persuade the rich to flee?


Other things worth your time

Some stories may require a subscription to read

“A nice place” where violence is too common, neighbors say after mass shooting // Oaklandside

Inside Harmeet Dhillon’s longshot RNC bid // Politico

LA’s annual homeless count underway, as audit looms // LAist

S.F. police use weed-related words to justify searches of Black people // San Francisco Chronicle

Abuse allegations spanning decades hit Boy Scouts, schools, foster care // Sacramento Bee

McCarthy ejects Schiff and Swalwell from Intelligence Committee // New York Times

Amtrak to restore weekend service between San Diego and Orange // San Diego Union-Tribune

Survivors of Palm Springs demolition demand justice 60 years on // The Guardian

Council approved rental inspections in 2019 but city never started program // Modesto Bee

NAACP rallies behind Oakland police chief placed on administrative leave // KTVU

San Diego Community Power OKs electricity rates cheaper than SDG&E // Voice of San Diego

San Francisco finalizes plans for 82,000 new homes by 2031 // San Francisco Examiner

Wanted (by scientists): Dead birds and bats, felled by renewables // Undark

The joy of ballroom dance will outlast the Monterey Park shooting // LAist

Why 2023 could be the year of the superbloom // National Geographic

Oscars: Full list of nominations // Hollywood Reporter

See you tomorrow


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