SOUTH EL MONTE — The city has rejected a $2.5-million damage claim by a woman who says a city councilman who lives next door spearheaded a noise ordinance that forced her to close her business and lay off 17 employees.
Jacquelyn S. Sherlin, owner of J. D. Plating Corp., contends that Councilman Stanley Quintana, who had complained about noise from the 24-hour operation next door to his home and business, improperly used his position to gain passage of the ordinance. Sherlin said she closed her metal plating business Oct. 10 because the measure would have effectively prohibited her from operating at night.
Both properties are zoned for industrial use and are on Tyler Avenue, a busy four-lane thoroughfare. Quintana operates a chemical barrel business, Stan's Barrel Co., on an unpaved lot behind his house at 1855 Tyler. J. D. Plating Corp. occupied a large concrete structure at 1841 Tyler Ave.
The claim alleges that Quintana "acted in his capacity as a city councilman to further his private interest" and that Sherlin was finally forced to abandon her business because Quintana had "engaged in a campaign of harassment" against her.
Quintana refused to discuss details of the case, saying that "there is litigation pending and I've had enough of that."
City Council members, including Quintana, voted 4 to 1 on Feb. 13 to reject the damage claim. Councilman Greg Meis was the lone dissenter. Filing a claim is a prerequisite to the filing of a lawsuit against a governmental agency. Sherlin said in an interview last week that she plans to file a federal court suit alleging that her civil rights have been violated.
"When you're deprived of the opportunity to pursue a business simply because of one man's ego, you're definitely talking about a violation of constitutional rights," said Sherlin, who is an attorney and has taken a job with a law firm.
Sherlin said she closed her business on Oct. 10, two days before the ordinance took effect prohibiting businesses located next to residences from making noises that cause a disturbance to residents between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. Sherlin said night operations were crucial to her firm's success.
Quintana and Sherlin have engaged in a yearlong dispute that one business leader has characterized as a "Hatfield and McCoy feud."
In addition to Sherlin's claim and last fall's noise ordinance, authorities said the battle has generated two lawsuits, 12 complaints to the Sheriff's Department, an injunction against an earlier Quintana-sponsored noise ordinance and charges that the councilman violated state conflict-of-interest laws.
Sherlin, who started her business in South El Monte nearly four years ago, said her troubles began last March when she moved her enterprise a few blocks to a larger building that adjoins Quintana's property. Because she received many nighttime deliveries from customers, evening operation was essential, Sherlin said.
According to Sherlin, Quintana began objecting to potential noise from her business even before it began operation. By that time, however, she already had signed a lease and moved some equipment to the site, Sherlin said.
Quintana began filing complaints with the Sheriff's Department soon after J. D. Plating moved in, and he once placed a delivery truck driver under citizen's arrest for disturbing the peace, authorities said. No charges were filed because the district attorney's office said the dispute was a civil matter.
The Sheriff's Department, which patrols the city, last May 22 measured the sound emissions at Sherlin's plant at between 60 and 72 decibels. The city code limit is 70 decibels in manufacturing zones. City officials said 70 decibels is about equal to a noisy office.
The next day, Quintana introduced an urgency ordinance to reduce the acceptable nighttime noise levels for businesses next to residences to 45 decibels, which city officials said is about the level found in a noisy house. The measure was approved 4 to 0 and took effect immediately, according to Deputy City Clerk June Wildeboer. Mayor John Gonzales was absent.
Sherlin filed a lawsuit alleging that Quintana had a conflict of interest in voting on the measure, and on Aug. 23 she obtained an injunction barring enforcement of that ordinance against her business, but left it intact for enforcement in other instances. Sherlin's lawsuit is pending in Pasadena Superior Court.
In the meantime, Quintana filed his own lawsuit against Sherlin, which also is pending, charging her with harassment. He also introduced a second noise ordinance on June 13. The council considered the measure, but shelved it on Aug. 8 in favor of a third noise ordinance. That ordinance was similar to the current one, except that it covered the hours from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. and changed a few other details. It was passed on a 3-0 vote, with Quintana and Gonzales abstaining.