SLO cited for dumping hazardous waste

June 6, 2012

Chemicals seeped from cans to a strip of wood separating the asphalt from the soil. Picture taken one week after discharge.

UPDATE: San Luis Obispo city attorney Christine Dietrick said in an email Wednesday afternoon that the San Luis Obispo fire department which lodged the notice of violation against the city is a CUPA participating agency overseen by San Luis Obispo County Environmental Health.

Original story:


San Luis Obispo city fire department officials have lodged a notice of violation against the city’s public works department for the illegal dumping and disposal of hazardous wastes.

In the February 17 notice of violation, Fire Department Hazardous Materials Coordinator Kerry Boyle claims city staff violated 16 laws regarding the city’s dumping, disposal and supervision of hazardous chemicals.

In citing the city, Boyle reversed his earlier claims that the purposeful dumping of dozens of gallons of chemicals including acetones (solvents), varnish, epoxy, creosote, enamel paint and latex paints onto the ground not far from a waterway did not require reporting to other agencies or citations.

In January 2011, waste water collections supervisor Bud Nance told staffers to remove the contents of the hazardous waste storage shed at the city corporation yard on Prado Road and empty cans in the yard. After about two weeks, the chemical dump was reported to Boyle who inspected the site.

At the time, Boyle concluded that the city was not required to follow laws regarding the disposal of hazardous materials. Instead, he allowed city staff to pour kitty litter onto the chemicals and then transport the waste to the Cold Canyon Landfill for disposal.

Boyle determined the release did not “meet a reporting threshold,” said Aaron LaBarre, supervising environmental health specialist for San Luis Obispo County Environmental Health Services. At that time it was determined there was no need to file a notice of violation.

However, dozens of emails between city managers and staff note that the dumping created a hazardous situation and needed to be correctly reported and cleaned up. The emails show some San Luis Obispo city employees attempting to downplay or hide the problem.

Following an exclusive CalCoastNews story on the incident, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sent investigators to the Central Coast to look into the deliberate dumping of the chemicals. And while city officials say they have been warned the city and some staff face civil and criminal penalties, no arrests have yet been made and no fines have been levied.

On February 17, a few months after the EPA and DTSC started their investigations and more than a year after the toxic release, Boyle sent the city the notice of violation. The citation asks the city to agree to develop a work plan to assess the level of contamination and to make changes in its policies and procedures to avoid further incidents.

Under the California Public Records Act, CalCoastNews sent a request for a copy of the notice of violation to LaBarre. It took almost three weeks, a violation of the act, before officials released the public document to CalCoastNews.

On March 16, San Luis Obispo city attorney Christine Dietrick wrote Boyle a response that says the city objects to the notice of violation. She notes that the city is also already facing criminal and civil penalties from other agencies and should not have to respond to allegations from a lesser agency.

“The city has been advised that the city and/or its employees could face civil and criminal penalties if certain allegations are found to be true,” Dietrick says in her response. “Facing concurrent actions for the same alleged conduct from both inferior and superior agencies places the city and its employes in a difficult legal and procedural position and prejudices the city’s ability to fully and fairly respond to the allegations against it.”

Nevertheless, Dietrick provided rebuttals to the majority of issues raised by Boyle. In her response, she argues that the cost of assessing the contamination far outweighs the benefit to public health. She calls the request unreasonable.

In response to allegations the city broke the law when it illegally disposed of the hazardous waste-soaked kitty litter at the Cold Canyon Landfill, Dietrick argued that the notice of violation did not provide basic information she needed to respond to the allegations. Even so, she wrote that the city is currently reviewing policies and procedures as to operate legally in the future.

The notice of violation also accuses the city of failing to legally label chemicals, separate incompatible wastes, adequately train personnel, and to properly maintain and operate the corporate yard to minimize the possibilities of fires, explosions and the unplanned release of hazardous materials.

Workers poured out a gallon of creosote in the corporate yard. Two weeks after the illegal discharge, workers poured cat litter on top of the chemicals.

Empty cans left strewn in the corporate yard.

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Dang, I could have used that creosote for some new fence posts. Hey guys, put it on Craigslist!

If it’s paint, you can let it dry up and then dispose of it like any other garbage. Don’t companies that sell potential hazardous waste material such as acetone, have to legally take back partially filled containers for disposal, or is it only fluorescentt bulbs? It wold be easy enough to fill up a pickup truck and take it to Morro Bay on Saturdays for FREE disposal. Daaaaaaaaa

Now lets look at the drinking water… check for heavy metals!

There are enough city employees working in that yard, someone with some brains should have cleaned this mess up before it became an issue.

So, if I understand this article and previous articles correctly, the City covers up the criminal conduct of a Utilities Manager – Nance and staff for violating hazardous waste control laws. Then top level management conspires to cover it up. Once the issue was brought to light by CCN, the DTSC and EPA agents stepped in a year later and upper City Management vehemently deny any wrong doing and try to spin the issue. Boyle with fire denies any issue in prior articles and then responds to the criminal investigation by superior agencies by conducting his own investigation and issuing a violation letter to his City Management – his boss. Next, Christine Dietrick responds to the violation letter from Boyle with fire asserting all manners of BS maneuvering rather than addressing the issues.

How about this, Christine Dietrick writes the violation for Boyle with fire to issue to Public Works and not Utilities. Then Christine Dietrick writes a rebuttal letter to her violation letter that Boyle with fire signed. What the heck is this an episode of the three stooges? If joe blow citizen did this, they would have been arrested and fined immediately, but for government employees we have a different standard?

Great reporting Karen, keep it up!

I think that what these actions show is that Boyle knew from the get-go that he should report this, but was pressured not to. Only after he was able to get supporting agencies to back him up or insulate him from retribution was he able to move forward. If true it speaks loudly to the bastardization of what civil servie was put in place for – protection of civil servants from political backlash.

That being said, clearly someone (Boyle?) felt strongly enough about this to contact CCN, and to its credit CCN went with the story and action was taken. I think it is terrific that this site is the local equivalent of Rolling Stone. Just please, please Karen et. al. do not become another slanted source. I forgive your sometimes rush to publish, knowing you don’t have the staff to fully vet a story. I won’t forgive you if you start with an agenda and then publish.

Bravo to you CCN for putting back a brick into the crumbling pillar.

I think the residents really get the picture on how the City of SLO is staffed and the multiple layers of management personnel that exist within city government which begs the following questions;

How many city personnel does it take to create a toxic spill on city owned property? (Answer: just a few lower paid city employees)


How many city personnel does it take to cover up the problems caused by just a few city employees?(Answer: a great many highly paid city employees)

CONCLUSION; The City of San Luis Needs to re-evaluate its present staffing levels consistent with its revenues in light of the city’s on-going budget shortfalls and “Live within its means” hence forth!!!!!!!!!!!

Great comments here. The city is broken and no one at city hall knows how to fix it. YOU ARE the problem! There is a pervasive culture of “Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” when it comes to problems with staff, with policies, with implementation of those policies, all along the line. Time to throw the bums out, end these ridiculous “feel good” laws and return to a more citizen-friendly government.

This is what fascist Republicans would bring all of us .

Republicans used to believe in protecting the environment…about 87% said so in 1984. Not any more. Now self identified Republicans are only 40% of protecting the environment .

Republicans are the problem.

Republicans are the enemy.

Do you know that most of SLO city decision makers, including planning commissioners, are not republicans?

Someone needs to look into how some of the SLO city decision makers are using their power to get work, get jobs for their friends, family, etc. Follow the dots, including personal and professional relationships.

The people I know in this incident are Democrats. So, Republicans are responsible for the actions of Democrats they don’t know and have never met? You have a problem.

Fraud, lack of ethics, and overall nincompoopery is not restricted to a single political party. I believe it can be found in both parties, especially on the local level.

IMO, trying to distract the discussion by trying to make it a Republican or Democrat issue wastes time, resources, and energy we should be spending to deal with the problem….not trying to score some kind of brownie points by blaming one party for something that is clearly system-wide.