A Woodland Hills boat-building company that has erected a trio of towering smokestacks to control fumes is discovering that it cannot control its neighbors' fuming.
Businessmen and residents whose offices and homes are near the Catalina Yachts factory at 21200 Victory Blvd. complain that the three 130-foot smokestacks are ugly and out of place in the sleek Warner Center area.
"They're disgusting," said Pat Sullivan, a bookkeeper whose office on Variel Avenue overlooks the smokestacks. "We used to have such a pretty view out our windows with the trees and hills in the distance. Now we have these eyesores."
The guy wire-supported metal stacks were erected last month after Los Angeles city inspectors ordered the boat company to replace shorter fiberglass vents that had been used. The building code requires that metal smokestacks be used above all "combustion chambers."
"They're what the city wanted," company owner Frank Butler said Thursday. "I didn't argue with them."
Butler said the higher stacks were installed in hopes of better dissipating the fumes produced by the fiberglass manufacture of Catalina's line of sailboats.
Instead, however, the towering pipes have focused new attention on the odors and have prompted complaints by neighboring businesses to the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
District officials said they received complaints of smells and dust coming from the smokestacks Wednesday afternoon. Their investigation had not been completed Thursday.
The jury is still also out on the general effectiveness of tall smokestacks in dispersing fumes, district inspector Douglas Henderson said.
"It's a practice that is tried by some places," Henderson said. "I don't want to tell you that it works or it doesn't work. But it doesn't appear to resolve fume problems in places I've seen."
Some Warner Center employees who work close to the boat factory said they are willing to put up with the smokestacks' steel-mill look if they help control the odor.
"I'm more concerned about the fumes than the smokestacks," said Marlene Slayton, supervisor of a nearby employee placement service. "The smells are extremely strong. They aren't that pretty. But I don't live here; I just work here."
Seen as Benefit to Community
"I think they will be a big benefit to the community," said Joe Pifko, who works in a real-estate brokerage office across the street from the Catalina plant. "I know they may be unpopular, but I'm totally in favor of them."
"We suffered severe depression when we watched them put those things up," said Rikki Speder, an accountant. "They are really out of place for Warner Center. This is a posh area. They should move that plant to some place like Chatsworth."
Gail Kleban, a secretary, said the smokestacks "stick out like sore thumbs with all the nice buildings and greenery we have in Warner Center."
Randy Macguire, who can see the stacks from his apartment living room on Canoga Avenue, said they are out of place, since the Warner Center area includes town houses and apartments among its high-rises and light industry.
Julie Gertler, field deputy to West Valley City Councilwoman Joy Picus, acknowledged that Warner Center property owners and businessmen have kept her phone line busy venting steam about the vents.
"We've checked, and they're completely legal," she said of the stacks. "The boat company was there before Warner Center. He's 'grandfathered' in. The businessmen are talking about getting a delegation up to go see Mr. Butler to see if there are alternatives."
As for Butler, he said he doesn't want to cause problems for anyone.
"We think this is the best method to control odors," he said. "People don't realize this is a manufacturing zone. The buildings that were built around it were built because the land was cheaper, since it is an M-2 zone."
His company, which employes about 300 workers in Woodland Hills, builds about 2,500 sailboats a year there and at a second plant in Florida. The Woodland Hills plant has been in operation about 12 years, he said.
Catalina boats range in length from 13 to 38 feet and are being used in the exclusive 10-boat Congressional Cup races under way this week off Long Beach, Butler said.
"If people don't like the stacks, tell them we're going to put sails on them and use them as advertising," he said. "That will really shake them up."