Junkyard watchdogs

Chico Scrap Metal opponents mark one year of noncompliance

Mark Stemen, president of Butte Environmental Council’s board of directors, speaks to protesters gathered outside Chico Scrap Metal Dec. 31 to demand the company change locations.

Mark Stemen, president of Butte Environmental Council’s board of directors, speaks to protesters gathered outside Chico Scrap Metal Dec. 31 to demand the company change locations.

Photo by Ken Smith

About two dozen people stood outside the green corrugated metal fence marking Chico Scrap Metal’s property on East 20th Street the morning of Dec. 31, their message made clear to passing motorists by signs and sporadic chants proclaiming “Move the junkyard!”

The demonstration was organized by a group of concerned citizens collectively known by that rallying cry—Move the Junkyard—and meant to alert the public that the metal-recycling business has been operating in violation of a longtime order from the city to vacate the property. In 2006, the Chico City Council ordered the company to move by 2011, because zoning changes directed by the Chapman/Mulberry Neighborhood Plan changed the property from industrial to light industrial/commercial use. That deadline was extended until Dec. 31, 2014, with the caveat that no more extensions be granted.

But in January 2015, the new conservative-majority City Council voted to explore a compromise with the recycler, and in April directed the company to propose significant operational and aesthetic changes to be able to stay put. Move the Junkyard’s organizers—several of whom have been involved in efforts to move Chico Scrap Metal for over a decade—contend the council had no right to overturn earlier decisions ordering relocation.

Mark Stemen, president of Butte Environmental Council’s board of directors, noted new homes have been built in the past decade with the promise that the scrap yard was moving. Though Chico Scrap Metal owner Kim Scott has cited prohibitive costs of more than $1 million—with no offer from the city to help cover the expense—as the reason the company never relocated, Stemen and other protesters expressed their belief the business never intended to move.

“[Chico Scrap Metal’s] strategy for over 10 years is just to sit tight and hope all the opposition and protests go away,” said Chris Ivey, another demonstrator. “They’ve been trying to just wait it out, but we’re not going away.”

The group further argues that the company, which was fined for contaminating the property and ordered to clean it up in 2008, still presents environmental hazards.

“Toxins will continue,” said Adrienne Edwards, a biology instructor at Chico State and Chapman resident who attended the rally with her three children. “In no other Chico neighborhood would we tolerate a toxic site next to a school.”

Last September, Russ Edmondson, a media information officer at the Department of Toxic Substances Control, confirmed the Chico Scrap Metal site is still contaminated with PCB, and that the company has submitted a plan to leave the waste in place and cover it with an “impervious cap” that would permanently restrict future use of the property. That plan is still under review by the DTSC.

Jake Morley, associate planner for the city, said the business owners have complied with the city’s order to submit proposed changes. With the proposal, the company also included a text amendment asking to remove orders for amortization—or moving—from the city’s demands.

Morley also said the business has adjusted its operations over the last year by changing collection hours; buying new, quieter equipment; and converting to a collection-only site, with scrap-metal processing carried out at another location.

Chico Scrap Metal was issued one citation and a $300 fine for violating zoning codes last June, after the company failed to submit its proposal for changes within 60 days of the April council meeting. Morley said no additional citations have been issued, as the proposal was received and is in the vetting process.

Morley said the next step is for the Planning Commission to review the proposal and make a recommendation to the City Council, which he said should happen sometime in February. After that, the council will vote on whether the business can stay at its present location.

For her part, Scott said Chico Scrap Metal is a small family business that has provided a necessary service to the community for decades, and currently serves an estimated 2,200 customers a month.

“It’s a shame this group [Move the Junkyard] won’t sit down and talk with us; they’re just determined to make us move,” she said.