‘They need to go’
Armed with new ammo, Jane Dolan is still fighting to move Chico Scrap Metal from Chapmantown
When Jane Dolan first became a Butte County supervisor, some of her Chapman neighborhood constituents said they were upset that their houses were burning down.
“Don’t the firefighters come?” Dolan asked.
They did. The problem was that once they arrived, there were no fire hydrants. The Chapman neighborhood lacked the plumbing to protect its residents.
This was in 1979. But in 2007, long after getting fire hydrants installed, Dolan is still concerned about the safety of the often-neglected Chapman neighborhood. This time, her main concern is Chico Scrap Metal.
From behind the desk in her Chico office, Dolan stated the issue plainly and simply: “They need to go.”
The company is a recycling hub for automotive and industrial scrap metal. It’s located on East 20th Street and backs up on East 16th Street, in the heart of the Chapman neighborhood, also known as Chapmantown. Surrounded by homes and an elementary school, the yard is a stone’s throw from a community that Dolan says would be better off with the business gone.
“It’s a useful business, but it is inappropriate to be where children go to school and families live,” she said. “It’s in the wrong spot.”
That incompatibility was brought home a month ago when state and local officials announced the discovery of toxic chemicals in soil samples taken from the site and also from Chico Scrap Metal’s other yard, on Oroville-Chico Highway east of Durham. The discovery has Dolan arguing even more fervently to relocate the business.
While officials were quick to say the contamination was not a major health concern, the county Public Health Department did issue a warning saying that the presence of heavy metals and/or PCB in the soil “may present a health hazard to persons who work at or visit these properties.”
Dolan says she is concerned about the children who attend Chapman Elementary School, just a half-block away.
Since news of the contamination first surfaced in late June and the resulting “heightened awareness,” as Dolan puts it, the supervisor has found herself with allies in a battle she has been waging since at least 2000.
It was then, on Jan. 25, that the Board of Supervisors, led by Dolan, approved the Chapman/Mulberry Neighborhood Plan, which called for the removal of the scrap-metal yard within 10 years.
Chico Scrap Metal was one of several businesses identified as incompatible with the neighborhood. Some have moved, and others have closed down.
Once the scrap-metal yard is removed, Dolan said, its space could be used much more effectively to meet the needs of the neighborhood. It could become a commercial center housing a laundromat, a small grocery store, a coffee shop and other useful services that the low-income neighborhood currently lacks, she said.
Part of Dolan’s frustration is that the yard is in the city, not the county, so she can’t do anything about it. The city must request the business to move.
Dolan said she worked to get the city to pass the neighborhood plan as well, though it took going to the council four times before it was adopted. “If it were any other neighborhood,” she said, “it would have passed the first time.”
That was in October of 2004, but the scrap metal yard is still there. And until the recent contamination report surfaced, it had stayed out of the public eye—and the City Council’s too.
Mayor Andy Holcombe acknowledged that the city hasn’t done anything. “The mechanism is in place,” he said, “but nothing has happened to move them.”
He added, however, that he doesn’t see the scrap-metal yard’s presence as an immediate risk for the community.
“I don’t think it poses any real health threat to the area,” said Holcombe. “It’s just that they’ve become incompatible with the neighborhood. And that’s not the fault of Chico Scrap Metal.”
Holcombe credited the business with taking steps to avoid environmental contamination, specifically the construction of a 5- to 10-inch concrete pad, and says that the business “probably is thinking they need to find somewhere to move.”
(Chico Scrap Metal didn’t return the CN&R’s phone messages, nor did its attorney.)
The move will most likely be costly to the city, Holcombe added, because it’s the second time the city has requested it to relocate. In 1987, the business was asked to move from its Humboldt Avenue location because the city feared contamination of Little Chico Creek. Chico Scrap Metal complied but now finds itself back at square one.
“It’s too bad that when they relocated someone wasn’t looking down the road,” Holcombe said.
Chico Scrap Metal knows it’s supposed to move, Holcombe said; it’s just a matter of time. But Dolan isn’t willing to wait until the last minute. Citing a “lack of leadership” on the part of the City Council, she says she will remain active in seeing a more immediate move.
“I’ve told my constituents they always should believe that they should have the same attention as any country club would have,” said Dolan. “Next to any other school it wouldn’t have taken this long. Next to Emma Wilson, this wouldn’t be happening.”