Council eyes mandatory rubble recycling

Last November the Chico City Council approved Mark Abouzeid’s plan to tear down an 80-year-old building on South Main to expand his Volkswagen car lot, against the recommendations of city staff and the Planning Commission as well as the wishes of the Chico Heritage Association.

Though the city had to give permission to tear down the building, it had no means of making sure the resulting rubble and materials from the 5,000-square-foot structure were diverted from the Neal Road Landfill, which is ironic because the state requires that the city reduce and maintain its waste stream into the landfill. The city is currently diverting about 51 to 52 percent, slightly more than its mandated goal of a 50 percent reduction since 1989.

Fortunately, the company contracted to demolish the old building did scavenge for reuse most of the material by pulling out wire, copper pipes, steel and windows and sending the concrete to a recycling company in Oroville.

This isn’t because the company that did the deconstruction, Elite Construction, has a green streak in the way it does business. The fact is that recycling the material for profit is cheaper than dumping it—the landfill charges $5 per ton to take in clean concrete.

But this week, until questions were raised, no one at the city knew what had become of the old building’s remains.

In fact, Linda Herman, a city management analyst in charge of solid waste, said she was under the impression the rubble had gone into the landfill.

“I don’t know how much there was,” she said, “but anytime we can divert, we want to.”

This breakdown is not Herman’s fault. Without an ordinance in place, the city has no jurisdiction over how such debris is disposed of. She said that when the old Fred Meyer building was knocked down to make room for the Lowe’s Building Supply store in southeast Chico, the city did have the power to order that the resulting 18,500 tons of materials be recycled and reused. That was because the store was operating with a city-issued use permit.

There was no use permit attached to the building at 920 Main St., so the city had no say in where the remains wound up.

Because of this loophole, the City Council’s Solid Waste Committee is sending to the full council consideration of an ordinance to require a minimum of 50 percent recycling and waste diversion for large commercial and industrial demolition projects. The committee voted 2-1 to send the issue to the council, with Dan Nguyen-Tan and Scott Gruendl voting yes and Larry Wahl dissenting. Wahl is a strong proponent of laissez-faire government.

Abouzeid said he and the company taking down the building had discussed how to dispose of the remains.

“I tried to donate it to Habitat for Humanity, but they never returned my calls,” he said.

The city made no contact with him, though he said there is a report on file of the city contacting the landfill to ask if it would take the material. The landfill, he said, agreed to do so.

Herman said the full council will consider the concept of a new ordinance most likely in April. At that time the council will decide if the city needs such a law and, if so, then give detailed direction to staff to draft the ordinance for further consideration.

Herman said that in the meantime those taking on demolition projects are encouraged to divert the waste from the landfill.

"I don’t think people realize they have that option," she said.