Kern officials investigate material trucked in from Los Angeles

LEBEC, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - Kern County officials want to know exactly what's in composted material being brought to the Lebec area from the City of Los Angeles, and say that operation never got the required local permit. An LA spokeswoman says the material is "mulch" the city gives away, and they'll get a permit if that's needed.

Officials from both areas agree, the truck loads of stuff have been coming to an area off Frazier Park Mountain Road for about six months. A contractor has been hauling it to that site.

"He was contracting with the City of Los Angeles. It appears bringing it in, and dumping it on the ground," Kern County Engineering Director Chuck Lackey said. "Having the City of Los Angeles dump it on the ground on some property up in Lebec in violation of (Kern) County ordinances, and then hauling it to another facility where it was being composted in Kern County."

On Friday afternoon in Lebec, a truck driver told Eyewitness News the material at the site was from the Los Angeles area. He's local, and picks the loads up in Lebec and takes the stuff to the Taft area.

Lackey said county officials have looked at the material and it appears to be "compostibles," and they're also doing tests to be sure what's in it.

Los Angeles City Bureau of Sanitation spokeswoman Cora Jackson-Fossett said the trucks are bringing up just mulch.

"It's very beneficial and in high demand," Jackson-Fossett told Eyewitness News. She said it's yard trimmings from curbside recycling in LA, and it's clean -- with no trash or debris in it. She said the material has a wide variety of uses, and LA gives it away for free.

The LA spokeswoman said these particular loads of mulch are going to a farmer in Kern County, but she declined to give any more details. She stressed the location in Lebec is just a transfer site.

Lackey agreed the material seems to be at the location only temporarily, he said the loads are there for about 24 hours at a time. But, the Kern County official said that requires a permit.

"The county wants to know what's going in on property, particularly commercial property, that involves waste material," Lackey said, "to make sure the public is properly protected."

He said during a permit process, the public is notified, there can be hearings, and county officials can require safeguards to deal with issues like dust, truck traffic, storm water and public exposure.

Kern County Supervisor David Couch represents the Lebec area, and he raised questions about what's going on. Tuesday he asked for reviews by several county departments.

From LA, spokeswoman Jackson-Fossett said the city will discontinue the operation until it's determined if a Kern County conditional use permit is required, and it's determined "if the person getting the material still wants it."

A man who works near the Lebec site told Eyewitness News on Friday that the material smells bad.

The LA spokeswoman said it's the city's goal to be a "good public servant" by providing mulch for use by landscapers and farmers, and she believes the material is a benefit to communities in Los Angeles and Kern County.

But, Lackey said the operation required a permit under the Kern County ordinance.

"The City of Los Angeles did not follow it," Lackey said. "Neither did the contractor who arranged for it." He said it's not clear if the city or contractor didn't know a permit was needed. "Or if, everybody was aware if it, and proceeded in violation of our ordinance."

Lackey said the county's environmental health department is doing more investigation, and once county officials have more information they'll take a report back to the Board of Supervisors.