The Los Angeles Board of Zoning Appeals in a 3-2 vote this week decided to forbid IT Corp. to operate its Wilmington hazardous-waste treatment facility, prompting IT to say it will file suit against the city.
The appeals board decision came on Tuesday, and on Wednesday IT Corp., the largest company in the United States that deals exclusively with hazardous waste, said it will challenge the ruling in Los Angeles Superior Court.
The appeals board--while unanimously agreeing that the Los Angeles Municipal Code is ambiguous on the matter--ruled that city officials had correctly judged that IT's hazardous-waste operation is located in an area not zoned for such activities.
Shutdown orders were served on the IT facility in December by the Department of Building and Safety when the city discovered that the hazardous-waste facility was located in a medium-manufacturing area. Those orders were upheld in February by chief zoning administrator Franklin P. Eberhard, who said hazardous waste treatment is allowed only in the city's most intensive manufacturing zone.
Type of Recycling
IT officials took their case to the zoning appeals board--the city's final judge on the matter--contending that what the city is calling "hazardous-waste treatment" is primarily only a type of "recycling," which would be permitted on the property.
Company officials also said the treatment is only a small part of IT's larger hazardous-waste hauling business and should be considered an "accessory use."
"The treatment is purely accessory and incidental to the transportation function of the facility," said Charles Ivie, an attorney for IT. "And the recycling is permitted under the code. We will seek further review of this issue."
The appeals board majority said it rejected the arguments of the waste company because, although the laws regulating the location of hazardous-waste facilities are unclear, they preferred to be more conservative in their judgment of such an important matter.
The blocklong IT facility, at 221 East D St., is the headquarters for about 60 hazardous-waste-hauling trucks, which mostly service heavy industries and petroleum refineries. The company uses the Wilmington site to consolidate and treat some of its smaller waste loads before they are shipped to disposal sites.
Testimony of Residents
The appeals board decision followed more than two hours of testimony, including that of Wilmington residents who said the facility was incompatible with surrounding homes and businesses.
The residents, who have protested the IT hazardous-waste facility for the last five months, hailed the appeals board decision as their first victory in a two-year battle against what they consider an overabundance of such businesses in the community of 45,000.
Wilmington has at least six hazardous-waste facilities, according to state records.
"We feel as if Wilmington has won a major victory," said Jo Ann Wysocki, president of the Coalition Against Toxic Waste, which has spearheaded the community's protest. "This is one on the first times Wilmington has had a favorable decision in general, and certainly the first time on this issue."
All other protests waged by the coalition--which has a "core" membership of 100 and a general roster of 600--have drawn little response from state and city officials, members say.
In the group's most extensive battle more than a year ago, it protested the location of the proposed BKK Corp. waste treatment facility in Wilmington. That protest led the group to file suit against the city of Los Angeles and BKK. The suit, currently before the State Court of Appeal, has stymied the proposed facility.
"This shows that David and his little slingshot can have some effect," said Charles Stevenson, Wilmington resident and coalition member. "I'm very happy that this time the city was on our side. With BKK, no one was on our side."
Residents credited the testimony of zoning administrator Eberhard for the appeals board decision. Eberhard argued that the zoning ordinance did not permit a hazardous-waste facility on the IT property. If the company wanted an exemption from the law, he said, it should be required to apply for a zoning variance.
A zoning variance would require further public hearings and an environmental review of the matter. If granted, a variance could impose conditions on the facility's operation.
IT officials, however, said they were not interested in pursuing a variance.
"A variance is unnecessary and it's inappropriate," said Ivie, the IT attorney. "I don't think we need one. What we're doing is permitted by our zoning."
IT, which operates two hazardous-waste facilities in Wilmington, withdrew its appeal of shutdown orders served on its operation at 336 W. Anaheim St. Officials said that it was not critical for the business to store or treat wastes there. That site is used mostly for IT's business offices and other operations, officials said.