Back in the scrap
Chico Scrap Metal makes first step in new effort to stay put
It takes more than a good fence to make a good neighbor.
That was the sentiment expressed by many who attended a meeting held by Chico Scrap Metal at the Eagles Hall on Friday (Sept. 25). The meeting ostensibly was a pitch for aesthetic improvements proposed by the recycling yard as part of the owners’ latest attempts to stay at the 20th street property it has occupied since 1983. Zoning changes to the area in 2004 prompted a 2006 order from the Chico City Council that the scrap yard move by 2011, and a series of extensions expired at the end of 2014.
“You can’t just approve an operation for putting a dress on a pig, cleaning up the fence a little and painting some buildings,” former Planning Commissioner Jon Luvaas said during one of the evening’s many heated exchanges with Kim Scott, who co-owns the recycling site with her father, George. “It’s the operation that’s the problem.”
The meeting was attended by about two dozen community members, with support and opposition for the scrap yard’s staying put split roughly down the middle. In addition to zoning issues, citizens expressed concerns about the presence of toxic chemicals at the site, which sits in close proximity to Chapman Elementary School, three day care centers and several homes.
The neighborhood meeting was the latest in a series of clashes dating back to at least 2004. That year, the city adopted the Chapman-Mulberry Neighborhood Plan, which rezoned the six parcels of land the company sits on from light industrial to neighborhood commercial. Plans were made to turn the property into a mixed-use residential and retail area, in keeping with part of the city’s general plan aimed at including commercial services in neighborhoods to cut back on the need to drive. Chico Scrap Metal is specifically addressed in the plan, which stated the city would work with the county to assist the business’ amortization—or move—to an industrial area. The last stay was granted with the caveat that there be no more extensions, and the business has been operating in violation of zoning codes since the end of last year.
In addition to being in the city’s sights, Chico Scrap Metal also has come under fire from state and county authorities in the past. A 2007 study by the Department of Toxic Substances Control found contamination in the form of chromium, lead, zinc and polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) at the site, and in 2008 Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey filed charges against George Scott for disposal of waste at an unauthorized facility and knowingly violating environmental safety laws. The owners pleaded no contest, and were ordered to pay $700,000 in fines—with $500,000 toward cleanup costs—and placed on five years probation.
But the Scotts appealed that decision, and it lingered in the courts until the appeal was shot down in January 2014. The DTSC is currently in charge of overseeing the cleanup.
Kim Scott brought a team to Friday’s meeting to counter current contamination claims, including environmental chemist Barton Simmons, geologist Bryan Gartner and lawyer Therese Cannata. Simmons said testing conducted from 2010 to 2012 determined that contaminants were at background levels that do not cause a significant health risk to people in the area. Scott said the company has submitted a cleanup plan to the DTSC.
“Chico Scrap Metal is contaminated with PCB,” Russ Edmondson, a media information officer at DTSC, said in a recent email response to queries about the site’s current level of contamination and status of cleanup efforts. “All waste is contained (meaning that it is prevented from being released off-site) on the property and we have eliminated all other constituents of concern.
“The remedy that CSM has currently proposed is to leave the waste in place and to construct an impervious cap on the area. They will have a Land Use Covenant on this site property to restrict future uses and to ensure proper controls on any future excavations, as well as to require annual inspections. CSM has submitted a draft Remedial Action Workplan (RAW) embodying their proposal and DTSC is currently reviewing that document. CSM doesn’t have any technical reports due at this moment.”
Scott struggled during the 90-minute meeting to keep the focus on fencing and other facility improvements, which also include resurfacing of two buildings, additional parking areas and shrubbery planted along the fence’s exterior. She contended the cost of moving to another properly zoned, commercially viable site—which she estimated to be about $1.5 million—is prohibitive without the city’s help. When past City Council orders and decisions were brought up, she repeatedly interjected, “That’s all history.”
And she may be right. On April 21, the City Council agreed to consider allowing the business to stay if it made aesthetic improvements and operational changes, and worked out a development agreement that passes muster. It was ordered to submit an application for the proposed changes within 60 days, and the city issued a citation for violating zoning codes when the application hadn’t been submitted in July.
“The citation was issued because they weren’t moving as quickly as they should be, so it was a reminder of sorts,” Community Development Director Mark Wolfe said Tuesday.
Jake Morley, associate planner for the city, was at Friday’s meeting, and offered clarification on the process later by phone.
The neighborhood meeting was the first step, Morley said, adding that he expects Chico Scrap Metal’s finalized application for a development agreement later this week. The plan could be reviewed by the Planning Commission in November or December, and then will go before the City Council for final approval. Morley said there will be opportunities for public input during the next two stages.
“There’s a lot of history, expert opinions and passion involved in this issue,” he said.
A group of opponents to Chico Scrap Metal’s continued presence in south Chico, collectively known as Move the Junkyard, met Tuesday morning at Butte Environmental Council’s headquarters to try to make sense of Friday’s meeting and plan strategies moving forward. Several in attendance expressed ongoing concerns about pollution and questioned whether the city can legally overturn zoning laws and the past council’s amortization order. The group thinks there’s only one reasonable outcome, which was best voiced by Chico resident and Democratic National Committee member Bob Mulholland.
“The junkyard will eventually move, whether they like it or not, because the citizens of this community require that, state law requires that and the zoning requires that,” Mulholland said. “It will happen, and they’ll be dragged out by an elephant if they have to.”