Recycled on site
New council majority allows Chico Scrap Metal to stay put
Chico Scrap Metal, which is currently operating in violation of city zoning ordinances and legally should have closed its doors by now, is being recycled rather than moved, following a decision at the City Council’s Tuesday, Jan. 6, meeting.
Ultimately the 4-3 vote to let the company stay in its current site, after eight years of telling it to move, boiled down to what members of the council’s new conservative majority thought was a matter of fairness.
The story goes back to 1983, when the city asked the company, which then operated an auto wrecking yard on Humboldt Avenue, to move so its site could be reclaimed for a lighter, more compatible use. The city aided Chico Scrap Metal in moving to its current location on East 20th Street, across from Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
Then, in 2004, residents of the Chapman and Mulberry neighborhoods developed a neighborhood plan under which CSM would move out in favor of a small commercial site with, it was hoped, a dry cleaner, coffee shop, convenience store and so forth. The plan, which was adopted by the city as well as the county, called for both agencies to help CSM move.
That didn’t happen. And CSM was unable to find a new, affordable location that was in what its owner thought was a viable location. After an extension, the deadline for ceasing operations was Dec. 31, 2014.
CSM serves 2,200 customers a month, owner Kim Scott told the council, and recycles many tons of metal. It provides jobs and a valuable public service, she said.
Last month she petitioned the council either to help it move or allow it to stay put, stating in a letter that she would be willing to change its operation to metal collection only—processing would be done at its Durham location—and to upgrade its aesthetics, putting in a new fence and perimeter shrubbery.
Asked by Vice Mayor Sean Morgan how she felt about being told to move—again—Scott said it was “outrageous.” She asked council members to imagine how they would feel “if someone said, ‘We moved you here and now we don’t like it. You need to move, see ya later, bye.’”
There was little opposition to CSM’s proposal, and in fact several neighbors stepped forward in support of the company. Patrick Kelly, who said he lives next door, had “no complaints,” and found the new Habitat for Humanity houses on East 19th Street that back up to CSM, with their many cars, more of a nuisance than the recycling yard.
Former Mayor Karl Ory, who was on the council in 1983, challenged the assertion that the city had helped locate the East 20th Street site for CSM. “I was surprised when the junkyard moved to 20th Street,” he said. “It is an eyesore and has continued to cause contamination.”
Neighbor Adrienne Edwards worried that toxins in the CSM yard would get into the dust and drift into neighbors’ homes and nearby Chapman Elementary School classrooms.
An attorney for CSM, Therese Cannata, stated that a recent, “exhaustive” state Department of Toxic Substances Control investigation determined that there was no hazardous waste on the site and never had been.
Former Councilman Bob Evans insisted that if the city wants Chico Scrap Metal to move, the city should help pay for it. Several people, including council members, echoed that sentiment.
Mayor Mark Sorensen charged that forcing CSM to cease operations amounted to a taking. “It would take the usefulness of the land from its rightful owner,” he said. And the property in all likelihood would sit there for decades. “I find it very difficult to believe [the uses proposed for the site] would pencil out any time in the near-term horizon,” he said.
Councilman Randall Stone essentially agreed with Sorensen, but noted, “The city has invested in the Chapman-Mulberry Neighborhood Plan” and should enforce it. Councilwoman Ann Schwab noted that the city had approved the Habitat for Humanity development based on the belief that the scrap yard would move out.
Community Development Director Mark Wolfe was given 90 days to come up with a framework that would allow CSM to stay put but ensure that its proposed changes were made.