The Battle to Save Gregory Mountain

by Shasta Gaughen

For over 20 years, the Pala Band of Mission Indians has been fighting to stop a landfill from being built on the flanks of Gregory Mountain, just west of the Pala Reservation. Gregory Mountain, known as Chokla in Luiseño, is one of the resting places of the powerful spirit Takwish. Takwish plays a vital role in Luiseño cosmology: he keeps the balance between life and death. Not just the people of Pala but all Luiseños recognize and respect the power of Takwish and the sacredness of Chokla. Medicine Rock, a sacred spot for rituals and healing, is also located at the base of Chokla and would be severely impacted by the proposed dump from the noise, dust, and pollution it would bring.

gregory-mountainWhen the people of Pala heard in the late 1980s that private developers intended to build a garbage dump in Gregory Canyon, on the western side of Gregory Mountain, they mobilized their opposition. Now, over 20 years later, the fight continues. There have been numerous lawsuits challenging the environmental documents for the landfill, and again and again Pala has been successful in blocking the start of construction. Yet, Gregory Canyon Limited, the corporation behind the dump, continues to press forward with applications for permits and approvals from various government agencies.

The desecration of sacred sites is not the only problem posed by the Gregory Canyon landfill. Running past the mouth of Gregory Canyon and along the base of Chokla is the San Luis Rey River, a source of irrigation and drinking water for thousands of people from Pala to Oceanside. Both the river water and the underground aquifer it feeds could be contaminated with toxic chemicals leaking from the dump. The dump would also affect the sensitive plants and animals that depend on the area for food, shelter, and water – including mountain lions, bobcats, deer, songbirds, and eagles.

Every time there has been a public review for a landfill permit, hundreds of people who oppose the dump have written letters and e-mails, made phone calls, and showed up to make their voices heard at meetings. Clearly, no one but the developer wants this dump to be built. Along with opposition from Pala and other Luiseño bands, residents from Oceanside, Bonsall, Fallbrook, and the many small communities living along the San Luis Rey River have spoken out against the Gregory Canyon landfill.

save-gregory-canyonMore opportunities are coming soon for opponents of the dump to demonstrate their opposition. The San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board will be releasing documents for public comment in the next few weeks. This board has the responsibility for issuing water quality permits to the dump’s developer, but they must also take responsibility for ensuring clean and safe water. The Army Corps of Engineers will also be releasing a draft Environmental Impact Statement within the next few months in preparation for making a recommendation for another water permit. It is vital that the public participate and tell these agencies why they must deny permits for the Gregory Canyon landfill.

The Pala Band is hosting a free, public rally on Saturday, October 20, from 10 am – 2 pm to help people learn more about the ongoing battle to stop the dump. You can learn more at their website: