Thousand Oaks violated open meeting law in waste deal

A state appeals court has found Thousand Oaks violated the state’s open meeting law, known as the Brown Law, in awarding Athens Services a lucrative contract transport of waste 15 years last year.

The 2nd District Court of Appeals ruled that the city failed to give the public the 72-hour notice required for the city council, at its March 9, 2021 meeting, to consider whether the Athens facilities were exempt of an environmental review.

“City Council voted the project exempt, without the public notice required by Brown Law,” wrote Arthur Gilbert, presiding judge of the Ventura Court’s Sixth Division, in last week’s decision.

The Brown Act requires that California Environmental Quality Act exemption findings be placed on a council’s agenda for its public meetings, he wrote.

“It was not,” Gilbert wrote.

The city argues that council’s passing of the exemption was a component of the agenda item awarding the franchise contract to Athens, Gilbert said. The agenda listing this item was released on March 4, 2021 – well ahead of the 72 hour requirement.

Therefore, there was no violation of the Brown Law, the city asserts.

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The decision came amid a lawsuit filed against the city by Houston-based Waste Management, which was replaced by Athens as the city’s waste hauler. Also replaced was EJ Harrison & Sons, which, along with Waste Management, had been the city’s waste collector since 1998.

Thousand Oaks’ deal with Athens is estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars, according to Waste Management.

The company had appealed a ruling by Ventura County Superior Court Judge Ronda McKaig, trial judge in the trial. McKaig denied Waste Management’s request to order the city to rescind its approval of the franchise agreement and its finding that the project is exempt from CEQA.

An Athens Services waste haul truck drives through Thousand Oaks.

Waste Management argues that the proposed CEQA exemption and the adoption of the Athens contract were two separate “business items”, each of which should have been placed on the board’s agenda, not merged into one. only.

Although he denied Waste Management’s claims, McKaig agreed they were two cases, the appeals court heard.

“It follows that the city violated the Brown Act by passing the exemption without having it on its agenda for at least 72 hours,” Gilbert wrote.

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The appeals court sent the case back to McKaig.

“We leave it to the trial court to fashion the appropriate remedy at trial if Waste Management proves its case,” the court ruling said.

The court noted that Thousand Oaks argues that the proper remedy for a violation of Brown’s law is to overturn the CEQA’s decision, not the franchise agreement.

Thousand Oaks City Attorney Tracy Noonan said in a statement Monday that the city disagrees with the appeal ruling “because it creates new laws in the areas of Brown’s Law and CEQA that each city, county and special district shall comply.

“We are evaluating our next steps, including seeking review by the California Supreme Court,” she said.

Gary Clifford, executive vice president of Athens, based at the City of Industry, said in a statement on Tuesday that the appeals court’s decision “does not change the vote of the city council or the service transition that has held over the past year in Thousand Oaks.

“It was clear from the comments made at the board meeting that everyone understood long before the meeting that city staff had determined that the franchise award did not require CEQA review,” he said. he declared.

Athens began serving commercial and residential customers in Thousand Oaks in January. In awarding the contract to Athens, the city council cited the lower rates offered by Athens.

Waste Management spokesman Eric Rose said, “Waste Management will let the decision speak for itself.”

Mike Harris covers the county towns of Moorpark, Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks, as well as countywide transportation. You can contact him at [email protected] or 805-437-0323.

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