Public Forum Set for Saturday Goes On, Despite Controversy

Residents have raised concerns over possible soil contamination in Menifee, including parts of the ...

Residents have raised concerns over possible soil contamination in Menifee, including parts of the new Audie Murphy Ranch development.
A Menifee town hall meeting scheduled for Saturday has confused residents regarding its purpose, changed sponsorship since its formation, and resulted in accusations against city and county officials.

The public forum will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Wooden Nickel Ranch, 25690 Holland Road. It will be sponsored by the newly formed Menifee Citizens for Honest Government and will be conducted by the group's creator, former mayoral candidate John F. Smith.

But that's not what it says on promotional fliers for the event that were circulated around town by another group of concerned citizens -- the Committee Against Toxic Exposure.

Members of CATE expressed concerns during a recent town hall meeting about the possible contamination of soil in Menifee by sludge -- toxins in processed sewage that was once used to fertilize agricultural fields in the area. Areas of concern include land where the Audie Murphy Ranch is being developed -- a project environmentally approved by Riverside County before Menifee was incorporated as a city.

A second public forum was organized to further discuss the issue, primarily under the direction of former city council candidate Carol "Red" Sullivan and Janine Matelko, a Menifee resident and longtime activist regarding soil contamination.

But today, Sullivan has removed herself from the issue. She asked not to be quoted for this article and said she will not attend the meeting. Meanwhile, Matelko said she also will skip the meeting and criticized Sullivan for her change of stance on the subject.

And amid all this, Smith -- who was asked to join in sponsoring the event on his group's behalf -- has pledged to carry on with the forum, and that "sludge will not be the forerunner of the event."

Got it?

The paving of Holland Road has been a primary
concern of John F. Smith's group.
Smith said the intent of the first public forum was to allow citizens to discuss any issues of concern. A planned primary topic was the controversy over the paving of a dirt portion of Holland Road west of Murrieta Road. However, Smith said the event "was almost highjacked" by activists wanting to make it all about the sludge issue.

"The meeting lasted 2 1/2 hours," Smith said. "Two hours and 10 minutes of it talked about sludge. For this meeting, the first thing will be to tell people what Menifee Citizens for Honest Government is all about. Second, the floor will be open to anyone. Sludge can be addressed, but this forum will not be highjacked."

CATE's leadership of the forum began to fall apart after Sullivan circulated an email saying she had changed her stance on the sludge issue following a meeting with an official who satisfactorily answered her questions. According to the email, Sullivan said she was shown documents and given explanation that a 1998 Environmental Impact Report for the Audie Murphy Ranch development showed that the land was not contaminated by Class B sludge.

In essence, Sullivan recanted her comments made at the Menifee City Council meeting a few days earlier, when she called for new soil testing in light of continued development in the area. Matelko's response was to accuse the city and county of threatening Sullivan with decreased funding for Sun City Concern -- a local nonprofit corporation of which Sullivan is president -- unless she backed off.

"She got an offer from the county if she backed out," said Matelko, who claims Sullivan told her this. "The statement was made that she was jeopardizing her funding if she didn't."

Sullivan denies that there was any such threat made in her lunch meeting with Marty Rosen, a member of the Riverside County Trails Committee. Rosen denied it as well.

"My private conversations have nothing to do with sludge," he said. "Anything about me threatening anybody is nonsense. We'll leave it at that."

Matelko has been outspoken about the issue of soil contamination ever since her daughter, 15-year-old Chrissy Garavito, died in 1997 of a heart condition in which doctors said pesticides may have been a contributing factor, according to an Inland Valley Daily Bulletin report. Matelko protested the spraying of pesticides at the middle school her daughter attended in Fontana.

According to Smith, Matelko asked him for help in bringing awareness to the sludge issue in Saturday's forum. He said he asked for copies of Riverside County documents Matelko said proves that toxic sludge was dumped in the Audie Murphy Ranch area after 1998, but she has refused to provide them.

"People have had copies of these records before," Matelko said. "People from the city say the records are tainted, that they've been Photoshopped. That's the reason I don't let my documents out.

"My daughter died from chemicals. I think this whole city is corrupt. Now they have Carol Sullivan."

Smith said he is sympathetic to the concerns of Matelko but that he can't represent a cause for which he is not given the necessary resources.

"I've talked to people who are kind of confused about these meetings and their purpose now," Smith said. "They say, 'I thought the intent of these meetings was that we could bring any issue forward.' That's right.

"This sludge issue is a very big issue. But I can't fight a fight if you don't give me the ammunition. She doesn't want to give anybody the documents. My philosophy is, you never speak in facts if you can't substantiate them."

Another public forum, this one sponsored by the City of Menifee, will be held in late February or early March to allow residents to address the issue of sludge.


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