Los Angeles Too Late in Sludge Dumping Suit

Biosolids recycling sounds better than sewage sludge, but by any other name, Kern County did not want the Los Angeles city waste spread on farmland in the county.  In 2006, voters banned the practice and Los Angeles sued, first in federal court but was kicked out and told to go to state court.

This week the California Supreme Court told Los Angeles it had waited too long to refile its state court lawsuit — 78 days.

The city had just 30 days to refile in state court if a federal judge declines to recognize federal jurisdiction.

Los Angeles began in the early 1990s to dump treated sewage sludge on Green Acres Farm, 15 miles southwest of Bakersfield after a 1987 court settlement barred the city from dumping the biosolids in the ocean.

Those limits were toughened in 1989 when the state required cities to cut the amount of solid waste going to landfills.

Biosolids were used on Green Acres Farm to grow animal feed crops for several years and then in 1999 Los Angeles bought the farm for nearly $10 million. The city also upgraded its wastewater treatment plants that generated the biosolids used in KernCounty.

But in 2006, KernCounty  voters approved a ban on use of biosolids as fertilizer in unincorporated Kern.  That prompted Los Angeles to sue alleging the ban violated federal equal protection, exceeded Kern’s police powers and preempted by state law.  The federal court said the issued an injunction on commerce clause and preemption claims, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal reversed in 2009, then said it was up to the district court whether to retain jurisdiction.

The judge refused and in 2010 dismissed the federal case. Then Los Angeles waited 78 days to refile in state court, a violation the 30-day deadline to file, according to the state supreme court this week.

Case:  City of Los Angeles v. KernCounty, No. S210150



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