WILMINGTON — In the aftermath of a Los Angeles decision to allow the continued operation of a hazardous-waste plant here, residents and Los Angeles officials say they are seeking to change the laws that regulate such facilities.
Residents last week began to coordinate efforts to seek state inspections of the Wilmington waste facility--North American Environmental Inc.--and city officials have recently initiated action on five separate measures that could significantly tighten controls on hazardous-waste operations citywide.
The two most recent of these Los Angeles measures have been proposed by chief zoning administrator Franklin P. Eberhard, after his recent consideration of whether to permit the continued operation of such Wilmington hazardous-waste facilities as North American.
Appeal by Company
North American had appealed orders to shut down, and on Feb. 14 Eberhard handed down a decision in its favor. The city's Department of Building and Safety had ordered the shutdown, saying that the property zoning for the company's site did not permit hazardous waste storage and transfer operations. The shutdown orders were served in mid-December after a Times inquiry prompted a city inspection of the property, where hazardous waste operations have been conducted since 1981.
Eberhard, who has the authority to hear zoning appeals, said that the wide parameters of Los Angeles zoning laws prompted his decision to grant the appeal.
"I think the city codes need to more adequately deal with the issue of hazardous waste," Eberhard said. "There may be some question as to whether this facility (North American) is the best thing for that area, but our codes don't currently address that."
Permitted by Ordinance
The city's zoning ordinance has long permitted hazardous waste storage and transfer operations like North American's to exist in light- and heavy-manufacturing zones regardless of their proximity to residential areas or the nature of the toxic substances they handle.
The North American plant, at 217 N. Lagoon Ave., is about a block from Wilmington homes and 1 1/2 blocks from the Wilmington Recreation Center, a major community park. The facility stores, consolidates and ships highly toxic chemical compounds called PCBs, which are known to cause cancer.
While Eberhard was considering whether to allow the facility to operate, he proposed to a City Council subcommittee that the city require a conditional-use permit for any new facility that stores, transfers or treats hazardous waste, and require that all existing facilities obtain a permit within a city-designated period of time. Both measures would require council approval.
If such measures were approved, residents would have the opportunity to comment on community-based waste facilities during formal public hearings. In addition, the city could impose conditions on the nature of a facility's operation.
Said Eberhard: "With this permit process, we could limit the kind of wastes a facility handles or fix a certain period of time for its operation--or whatever is needed. We would look at each case individually."
North American officials could not be reached for comment on the proposed regulations.
Three other measures, introduced Jan. 30 by Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores, who represents the harbor area, would also tighten city regulations governing hazardous waste facilities.
Flores has asked that the State Department of Health Services--which has authority to grant permits for hazardous-waste facilities--check local zoning laws and conduct public hearing before it issues temporary environmental permits for the plants. These procedures would require approval by the state Legislature.
The state currently conducts hearings only for those facilities that are considered for permanent permits, even though the temporary documents are valid in many cases for as long as five years.
In her other two motions--which were drawn up immediately after Wilmington's recent hazardous-waste controversy--Flores requested that inspectors be assigned to hazardous-waste facilities and that all city permit applications be revised to include information about whether a company handles hazardous materials.
Need to Keep Track
Said Flores in an interview: "Everybody's been remiss on this issue. The state's giving out interim permits without checking with the city for zoning (conflicts). And the city is not even telling the city what's going on. We give out business licenses without ever inquiring about hazardous-waste activities. We need to have somebody keeping track of what's going on."
The decision to allow North American to proceed with its hazardous-waste operations comes in the wake of Los Angeles' decisions to halt hazardous-waste activities at two other Wilmington facilities, owned by the IT Corp.