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USA Waste of California, Inc. v. City of Irwindale

April 26, 2010

USA WASTE OF CALIFORNIA, INC. CROSS-COMPLAINANT AND RESPONDENT,
v.
CITY OF IRWINDALE, CROSS-DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT.



APPEAL from an order of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Dan T. Oki, Judge. Affirmed. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. KC051372/KC050097).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mosk, J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

INTRODUCTION

Cross-defendant and appellant City of Irwindale (City) appeals from the denial of its motion to strike cross-complainant and respondent USA Waste of California, Inc.'s (USA Waste) second amended cross-complaint under the anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) statute, Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16*fn1 which applies to the rights of freedom of speech and petition for the redress of grievances. This case involves, inter alia, whether the anti-SLAPP statute can be extended to apply to land use guidelines issued by a city. We hold that USA Waste's second amended cross-complaint against the City is based on such guidelines and is not subject to the anti- SLAPP statute. We affirm the trial court's ruling.

BACKGROUND*fn2

In about 1988, United Rock Products Corporation (United Rock), an operator of sand and gravel quarries in the City, acquired an open sand and gravel pit consisting of approximately 65 acres of land. That pit is commonly known as Rock Quarry Pit No. 1 (Pit No. 1). On June 28, 1998, in City Resolution No. 90-19-1192, the Irwindale City Council approved United Rock's plan for reclaiming the land consisting of Pit No. 1 and United Rock's proposed future use of the site (Reclamation Plan).*fn3 The City's approval purported to contain additional conditions that United Rock's parent corporation challenged in an appeal to the State Mining and Geology Board. The State Mining and Geology Board upheld the challenge in Resolution No. 91-14 to the additional conditions, rendering the approval of the Reclamation Plan unconditional.

In about 2002, United Rock began to backfill Pit No. 1 in accordance with the approved Reclamation Plan. Disputes arose between the City and United Rock, and litigation ensued. In February 2002, United Rock and the City entered into a Standstill and Tolling Agreement that stayed the litigation and resolved some of the parties' disputes. The Standstill and Tolling Agreement describes the permissible "fill" of Pit No. 1 and provides for a compaction rate of 90 percent or less as follows:

"The permissible fill material and compaction standards for Quarry No. 1 shall be the following: Inert material, 90% bulk density soil compaction or such lesser percent as may be approved by the City Engineer which is considered engineered and suitable for development. Appropriate inert material shall be bulk fill material, including crushed or broken concrete, bituminous concrete and other material which arises from the excavation of roads, bridges, soil or rock and that does not contain contaminates (materials which are potentially harmful to human health or the environment). Inert materials shall only be those materials permitted by state law." (Italics added.)

During the time that United Rock backfilled Pit No. 1, it submitted reports to the City representing that it was backfilling Pit No. 1 according to the relevant requirements, including the 90 percent compaction rate. In about September 2004, JH Properties, Inc. purchased Pit No. 1 from United Rock and assigned Pit No. 1 to Irwindale Partners. As part of the assignment, Irwindale Partners agreed to be bound by various requirements concerning the backfilling of Pit No. 1, including those in the Reclamation Plan and the Standstill and Tolling Agreement.

On November 9, 2004, USA Waste leased Pit No. 1 from Irwindale Partners as an inert debris fill operation. Pursuant to the lease, USA Waste agreed that its portion of the fill at Pit No. 1 would be subject to the standards and requirements set forth in the Reclamation Plan and the Standstill and Tolling Agreement. In a letter to Irwindale Partners and USA Waste dated November 8, 2004, the City affirmed its position previously communicated to USA Waste that the documents and other requirements governing the backfilling of Pit No. 1 included the Reclamation Plan (as rendered unconditional by State Mining and Geology Board Resolution No. 91-14) and the Standstill and Tolling Agreement. The letter stated, "We understand that reclamation activities in the pit are being conducted pursuant to the approved Reclamation Plan. Unless the reclamation activities change from those in the Reclamation Plan, no additional land use or grading permits will be needed for the continued reclamation of Pit No. 1." Shortly after entering into the lease, USA Waste began backfilling Pit No. 1.

On December 20, 2005, the Irwindale City Council approved by resolution the Irwindale Backfill Committee's Guidelines for Above-Water Backfilling of Open-Pit Mines (Guidelines). The Guidelines were "based on the premise that the backfilled mine sites will be developed into higher-value commercial projects such as office buildings, warehouses, light manufacturing facilities, automobile dealers, restaurants, hotels, and consumer retail outlets." The Guidelines contained detailed backfilling requirements designed to ensure the sites would support commercial building. The requirements exceeded the requirements in the Reclamation Plan and the Standstill and Tolling Agreement, including a higher compaction rate of 93 percent.

In 2006, the City informed USA Waste that the Guidelines, including the 93 percent compaction rate, applied to Pit No. 1. The City stated that Pit No. 1 had to be backfilled in a manner that permitted the placement of a building on the finished site, even though the Reclamation Plan and the Standstill and Tolling Agreement did not so provide.

USA Waste contended that the Guidelines did not apply to Pit No. 1, but agreed to pay for engineering tests to determine whether Pit No. 1 was being filled in compliance with the Reclamation Plan. After the testing was complete, the City stated that Pit No. 1 had the following deficiencies:

"A. The United Rock portion of the fill was unacceptable because it did not meet the 90% compaction rate.

"B. The United Rock portion of the fill was unacceptable because it did not meet the new, tougher standards set forth in the Guidelines and did not meet the City's new goal that the fill ultimately be `developable.'

"C. The USA Waste portion of the fill was unacceptable because it did not meet the new, tougher standards set forth in the Guidelines and did not meet the City's new ...


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