Dump operator found guilty of civil contempt as debris landslides threaten in Ventura and Los Angeles counties
Less than five weeks are left until the Ventura County Sheriff comes looking for notorious illegal dump operator Wayne Fishback, who has destroyed huge areas of once-pristine land in both Los Angeles and Ventura counties.
These unstable dumps remain landslide hazards in both counties even as Fishback has finally been held to account. Massive walls of dump construction debris and dirt could destroy hundreds of properties in both counties and possibly harm unsuspecting people in the most horrific way. The damage he has caused appears irreparable as it would cost tens of millions to excavate and transport away.
EnviroReporter.com has followed this story for 14 years, taking hundreds of photographs of Fishback’s two huge dumps. Now we’ve uncovered even more evidence of the monies Fishback made off of his Browns Canyon illegal waste site in western Los Angeles County adjacent to Porter Ranch. EnviroReporter.com also has attained information and eyewitness documentation that shows the landslide potential of both Fishback dumps.
Fishback was convicted of civil contempt of court in Ventura on December 18, 2019 for failing to submit a cleanup plan for the massive dump he operated in the eastern part of the county near the grossly polluted Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL). He was given 60 days to comply including obtaining all the necessary permits or check into jail, that or the Sheriff will come looking for him.
Fishback was also ordered to clean up the massive Ventura dump within 180 days of cleanup plan approval or sit in county jail until it is done. The Ventura dump took in an estimated 100,000 cubic yards of construction debris and 40,000 cubic yards of soil to hide it, which according to 2015 court documents, would fill an eight-story-high football field. That means a lot of jail time.
The scene of this environmental crime is a 42.3 acre tract three miles west of Chatsworth, created by the merging of 18 parcels off of the North American Cutoff dirt road. The property is across from Sage Ranch Park and just up Black Canyon Road from SSFL, site of multiple partial nuclear reactor meltdowns and now a cleanup battleground.
Regardless, the site was once one of Ventura County’s most beautiful set of rugged hills of rock outcrops among thin soils covered in chaparral. Now the land is a series of deceptive terraces filled with debris and garbage covered haphazardly by dirt. The cracks, fissures and cave-ins riddle the land high above homes below with owners likely unaware of the debris slide potential. A disaster could send 400,000 pounds per second of concrete, rebar and trash crunching down the mountain at 20 miles per hour for miles into Simi Valley.
“Best holiday gift for the 850,000 residents of the County of Ventura,” wrote private attorney for Ventura County in the Fishback case David J. Cook in emails sent to EnviroReporter.com on Christmas Eve 2019. Cook, who represented families of marines killed in the 1983 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Beirut in the partial collection of the $2.6 judgment against Iran, later added, “Should Mr. Fishback fail to comply and fail to voluntary surrender himself, the court will issue a bench warrant for his arrest.”
It also could be a 180-day sentence for the unrepentant 74-year-old man whose dumping in Ventura was first exposed in the media by this reporter in the November 16, 2006 Los Angeles CityBeat/ValleyBeat newspaper exposé Fishback Mountain. That dump closed one month later.
Years of illegal dumping that degraded some of Southern California’s most beautiful mountains will have come to an end for the man who made millions off the scheme while local officials and outraged residents fumed at the blatant criminality and inability to get the litigious Fishback to stop.
The court ruling will not be the end of it, however. The landslide threats remain and huge areas despoiled by Fishback and his discount dumping aren’t safe for people or livestock to even walk on. No one would even bid on the Ventura dump land when auctioned years ago, even though it has million dollar views that Fishback had hoped to cash in on by building mansions (which would invariably crack apart as the dump land settled).
Few people can take credit for ruining more beautiful land in Los Angeles and Ventura counties than Wayne Fishback. All the while, Fishback had an even bigger idea which would include both his dumps in a grand 2011 vision called “2050 DASH – From Contaminated Soil to Common Ground.”
The bizarre brainchild would be to turn SSFL into a research park that would somehow miraculously supply fresh water to the Los Angeles River and the Arroyo Simi, along with hosting a “Fishback Cooking School” that “will emulate the famous schools in Tuscany, Italy.” Maps labeled Fishback’s dumps in both counties as “Culinary Field Lab Estates.”
Fishback’s food folly may sound foolish but the man outdid himself in a fawning letter pitching 2050 DASH to President Trump posted online February 27, 2017.
“We believe this economic engine will exceed even the former aerospace industry that supported the world’s largest research and industrial complex for the Apollo and Space Shuttle Programs,” Fishback shamelessly wrote trying to out-con a conman. “We want to capitalize on existing LA assets, such as the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, SpaceX and world-class university research. In addition a unique component will be a proposed research park located on Native American land free of California’s burdensome regulations.”
Those burdensome regulations are the same ones that prohibit dumps in mountain canyons without permits. Fishback learned that February 10, 2015 when Ventura County won a judgement for mandatory injunction and $21.7 million in civil penalties against Wayne and his wife Carol.
“For nearly a decade, the Fishbacks have resisted orders to cease their activity and restore the property,” read a press release sent to EnviroReporter.com by the county’s Environmental Health Division (EHD) at the time. “To protect the public health and safety, and the environment, the County persisted in its efforts to have the property restored.”
The Fishbacks were ordered to complete the remedial actions by November 30, 2015.
“It’s unfortunate that the residents of Ventura County have had to wait so long for justice in this matter,” said Bill Stratton, director of EHD in 2015, “but it was absolutely the right thing for us to pursue it. The Fishbacks’ activities threatened their downstream neighbors, the environment and anyone who may have later developed the property. The judge’s order will help restore the property to protect the surrounding area.”
But nothing ever happened. Instead, Fishback ramped up dumping operations in Browns Canyon across the county line in Los Angeles. EnviroReporter.com witnessed the massive operation ten times from 2014 to 2017, documenting it all. The photographs tell the tale.
Los Angeles County Judge Stephen P. Pfahler agreed with Los Angeles County June 1, 2018 that Wayne Fishback, Charles Lee, ABC Waste Management Corp. and Cepheid LLC continued to violate his 2015 order preventing the transport and deposit of concrete and demolition debris in Browns Canyon. That helped finally slow down the dumping.
An expert witness for Ventura County during Fishback’s bench trial nearly four months ago, engineering geologist Philip Shaller, testified that “up to 800,000 cubic yards of concrete waste/construction debris and soil/dirt was deposited at Fishback’s Los Angeles County site.”
Michael Berg, the county’s forensic accountant, estimated August 28, 2019 that “[Fishback’s] Ventura and Los Angeles County operations received between $7.9 to $11.2 million in operating income, or revenues, with an average value of $9.6 million.”
“FISHBACK is an experienced, sophisticated businessperson and demonstrates good knowledge and understanding of California solid waste law,” read the court filing sent to EnviroReporter.com by attorney Cook:
“The evidence proved that FISHBACK has the financial ability to comply with the Judgment’s injunction, or, at a minimum, its requirement that FISHBACK present a final clean closure plan to the COUNTY with all necessary permits, through the testimony Rene Perez (who operated a drone showing substantial truck traffic and dumping at FISHBACK’s Los Angeles County dump site off Browns Canyon Road), Douglas Baldwin (who observed and photographed hundreds of large dump trucks dumping concrete debris and fill at FISHBACK’s Los Angeles County dump site), Dr. Philip Shaller (who calculated, for both the Ventura and Los Angeles County dump sites, the total amount of cubic yards of debris that was dumped and probable revenue received), and Michael Berg, CPA (who calculated the amount of money received by FISHBACK or his alter ego corporation, ABC Waste, as being approximately $10 million and testified that ABC Waste operated fraudulently)[.]”
Wayne Fishback now publicly claims he is bankrupt and almost homeless because of “lawless” Ventura County’s which is “evil to the core” even as he has repeatedly blown off the court as it has tried to establish his true worth. His son Todd Fishback has been a little looser with financial information that his father may not have wanted advertised. It appears Todd may have been key to the creation of his father’s ABC Waste setup that “operated fraudulently” according to court papers.
EnviroReporter.com discovered a forensic financial detail found on Todd Fishback’s CampusCoin Project “team” page in which he is identified as “Chief Financial Officer.” While the cryptocurrency appears now to be near worthless, its website is still online and telling:
“In addition, he was instrumental in building ABC Waste Management Corp., a profitable reuse and recycling enterprise in the greater Los Angeles metro-area, to $1.6 million in revenue within fourteen months from startup.”
Todd Fishback was not named in the December 18, 2019 Ruling on Submitted Matter papers signed by Judge Jeffrey Bennett nor does he appear to be under investigation.
Authorities did investigate what will be the lingering legacy of Fishback’s mountains of waste: debris slides that can level homes and crush people in their cars. Geologist Shaller’s July 31, 2015 Fishback Illegal Landfill Assessment contains numerous photographs of alarming slope failure cracks and erosion damage in the Ventura dump high above Simi Valley homes and the SSFL-impacted Brandeis-Bardin Jewish camp.
The 148 page report showed that Fishback’s Ventura illegal landfill is about 2000 feet by 1000 feet in area perched on steep slopes. Included are March 1, 2008 plans that show that Fishback had hoped to build residences on the dump’s fill. Potential landfill failure made that a very bad idea, let alone the inevitable settling of the surface which could literally break apart Fishback’s fantasy manses.
Already by January 29, 2008, massive fissures had opened down the dump’s slope exposing construction waste. Tension cracks in the land gave way to erosion gullies big enough to swallow a car. Massive concrete chunks were found exposed through trenching with a hydraulic excavator which were found next to huge underground voids in the land and garbage fill.
The chemical pollutant toluene was found in dump soil samples at high levels. Toluene, which can cause severe neurological damage, is used as a solvent for paints, paint thinners, adhesives and glues.
Flow paths off the Fishback dump to the northwest gush over Black Canyon Road and into Brandeis-Bardin. From there, any such effluent would make its way into the Arroyo Simi. The debris flow potential to the northeast includes the possibility that two areas of the dump, with a combined total of 27,800 cubic yards – 37,530 tons – could cut loose and roar downhill towards Simi Valley.
A massive storm or series of unrelenting storms which are becoming more common, a major earthquake, or any combination thereof, could set Fishback’s mountainside waste disposal site off. Gravity would do the rest with potentially catastrophic results.
The Fishback Mountain debris flow, or dumpslide, would crash down steep canyons at 20 miles per hour headed towards Clear Springs Road and down Lookout Rock Trail.
According to Shaller, it would have a dumpslide face 45 feet across and 3 feet high (deep) as 3,000 square feet per second, weighing 400,000 pounds per second as it rumbled towards the Susana Woods Prestige Mobile Estates and adjacent Knolls Elementary School.
The senior retirement mobile home park has 139 sites housing several hundred people. The elementary school has 253 students in the current school year taught by 9 teachers and supported by about a dozen staff. Neither the retirement village or grade school have warning signs regarding the possibility of Fishback’s dumpslide barreling through either place or what to do if it does.
Large boulders and chunks of concrete 1 to 3 feet in length would lead the front of dumpslide. The body and tail of the debris flow would follow. It cannot be outrun, stopped by a wall or ‘body surfed.’ If you are in the way, good luck.
The “Fishback Illegal Landfill Assessment” report emphasized just how much deadly debris that would be coming down Fishback Mountain per second: 5 massive tractor trailers weighing 80,000 pounds each. One full page of the study makes it even more abundantly clear by actually illustrating those 5 trucks together, coloring book style, for even the most challenged of readers to understand the size and weight of the crushing danger per second.
Potential buyers of property near SSFL have become familiar with a warning used by realtors in the Simi and San Fernando valleys. It is usually listed under “San Fernando Valley Disclosures.” One such form obtained by EnviroReporter.com reads:
“Boeing Rocketdyne Santa Susana Facility: Buyer is aware that there is a Rocketdyne testing facility located in the Santa Susana Mountains between Chatsworth and Simi Valley. The US Department of Energy has indicated that there are some radioactive materials and industrial solvents on this site, which are in the process of clean-up. Lawsuits have been filed alleging that the Rocketdyne facility has caused environmental contamination beyond the site. For further information, Buyer should contact the US Department of Energy, San Francisco, California, or Buyer’s State or Federal Legislator.”
While the company Rocketdyne no longer has anything to do with SSFL, it has been a commonly used designation for the site for decades. Regardless, the disclosure warning is still very helpful. At least prospective buyers are given a chance to decide on how close they want to live next to the former lab, if they end up wanting to live there at all.
A similar warning could be included on real estate disclosure forms for properties in the dumpslide shadow of Fishback’s Ventura dump considering that Shaller’s study so clearly and convincingly presented the danger with authority. Signs and flyers could be called “fishbacks.” Failing to warn folks about the crushing realities of Fishback Mountain would not only be wrong, but perhaps open the county to liabilities considering it was aware of the peril since at least 2015 when the report for Ventura County was completed.
No potential debris flow report has been done for Fishback’s sprawling Browns Canyon dump in Los Angeles County, even though it has more than 5.7 times more junk and debris than what was dumped in Ventura. Judging from the way the dumping was done, as seen and photographed by this reporter for four years, the potential threat of gigantic dumpslides in Browns Canyon is a very real possibility.
There are at least five enormous dumps perched on canyon hillsides in Browns Canyon. The main illegal waste site spreads across a huge area and has resembled a construction debris step pyramid. All of this dumping was done without proper planning, legal permits or concern with potential disasters in the future. Fishback’s Browns Canyon dump is as illegal as the one in Ventura County, but could be more dangerous should all that rubble start failing and begin its downward march towards Chatsworth.
The possible Browns Canyon dumpslide could crush its way south towards Devil Canyon before breaking into the city in the wash west of De Soto Avenue and the 118 Ronald Reagan Freeway. The freeway’s pylons could be destroyed as the dumpslide emerges onto the sports fields and campus of private Sierra Canyon School with its 1,000 students and 170 faculty.
Another more terrifying scenario, and all the more likely as global warming brings more and stronger ‘storms of the century,’ is a Fishback dumpslide which blocks Browns Canyon allowing rain and debris to build up behind a rubble dam. If the dam fails, it would unleash a massive wall of water, mud and concrete junk flooding into Chatsworth.
Longtime residents remember once defeating a scheme for a dump in Browns Canyon. The 1975 plan envisioned a dumpsite that would have had a 1,000 dump trucks a day for 45 years. An outraged community formed a “Dump-the-Dump” committee, garnered 3,000 petition signatures and the Los Angeles City Council voted 11-0 to nix the idea.
Forty years later, Wayne Fishback decided he’d have that dump dropped into Browns Canyon anyway. And, so far, he’s gotten away with it making millions in the process. Not so in Ventura County where Fishback has to produce that cleanup plan, with all the right permits, by February 18. Then Fishback has half a year to dig out his Ventura dump.
Otherwise, the erstwhile founder of the Fishback Cooking School and Culinary Field Lab Estates will have to check into the Ventura County Jail where the county Sheriff serves over two million meals a year cooked in four 100 gallon kettles. The grub emulates grog.
It’s hard to envision Wayne Fishback doing any real jail time. But it’s impossible to see how the illegal waste disposal sites he operated in two counties will ever be cleaned up either.
Warning people about the hazards of Fishback Mountain dumpslides might mitigate this unprecedented assault on the land and law, though actually recouping the ill-gotten millions as well would be better still. That would take truly aggressive efforts that, if successful, might take some of the sting out of this seminal episode in Southern California environmental criminality.
The magnitude of Fishback’s transgressions demands that the court strictly follow through on its orders. Otherwise criminals willing to destroy nature on such a grand scale for ill-gotten gains will be emboldened and the rule of law dumped on.