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Tortilla Plant Accused of Air, Noise Pollution

August 13, 1987|PATRICIA KLEIN | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles city attorney's office has charged a Canoga Park Mexican food manufacturer with nine counts of violating state air and noise pollution laws after neighbors accused it of fouling the area with the smell of burning tortillas and blanketing it with "flour storms."

The complaint, filed in Los Angeles Municipal Court on Wednesday, charges Mission Foods Corp. with six counts of operating machinery more than 5 decibels above legal noise limits and three counts of creating air-quality nuisances.

The violations occurred between January and July of this year, Deputy City Atty. Steven R. Tekosky said.

The charges stemmed from complaints by neighbors and followed repeated warnings and investigations by the Los Angeles Police Department and the city's Department of Building and Safety, City Atty. James K. Hahn said.

The company is scheduled to be arraigned on the charges Oct. 1 in Los Angeles Municipal Court. If found guilty, it could be fined up to $15,300, or $1,700 a count, Tekosky said.

Officials Weren't Named

No company officials were charged.

"They just showed a total disregard for the neighborhood," said Ted Goldstein, a spokesman for the city attorney. "We've had to use a 2-by-4 philosophy here, but I think they understand that we mean business. This will get their attention."

Mission Foods Manager George H. Funk said the company has spent about $87,000 to help solve noise and odor problems.

"We have on the drawing board plans to invest additional sums for reduction in both noise and any possible odors that might come from the plant," Funk said.

"We're working to do everything we can to be a good neighbor as well as to conform to all laws that apply to us."

Neighbors of the plant at 7920 Deering Ave. applauded the charges, saying the company, which manufactures tortillas and other Mexican specialties, had plagued the area for years with noise, odors and clouds of flour.

The noise and odors particularly affect about a dozen homes in the 7900 block of Variel Street, which have backyards abutting the plant property, said Bruce Miller, president of the North Canoga Park Homeowners Assn., formed to fight nuisances neighbors say are caused by the plant.

Smells often bother up to 700 homeowners in the area between Roscoe Boulevard and Saticoy Street and between De Soto and Canoga avenues, Miller said.

The trucks, forklifts and machinery can be heard around the clock, seven days a week, neighbors said.

Resident Olga Birch compared the noise of trucks to "Chinese torture."

"I don't think I've had a full night's sleep for a year and a half," said Birch, 73, a retired pharmacy clerk who moved into the neighborhood in 1962.

"I hear the noise, my hair goes right up. I don't go back to sleep. I'm too aggravated," she said.

Residents complained of diesel exhaust fumes from trucks arriving at and leaving the plant, and said they frequently are bothered by what smells like burning oil and rancid grease.

"During the day, you can't go out because of the smell," Birch said. "I'm a prisoner in my own home. It's depressing. You keep the windows closed and the air conditioning on. I'd like to give the plant my air-conditioning bills."

Residents said flurries of airborne dust from flour, which they call "flour storms," leave white coatings almost daily on cars, trucks, swimming pools and even the insides of houses. A particularly heavy "storm" occurred July 18, they said.

'I Was White'

Kerri Chasoudian, 28, said she was sunbathing in her yard, "looked up, and I was white."

"I got flour in my eyes even. My house was a mess. We've got that black lacquer furniture, and everything was covered. Plus, it's hard to get off your car," she said.

Residents say they called the plant that day and were told that equipment had malfunctioned.

The plant, owned by Gruma Corp. of Monterrey, Mexico, employs about 300 people, Funk said, making it one of the largest employers in Canoga Park.

Neighbors said Mission Foods officials purchased swimming pool covers and air filters for at least three residents, and have met with nearby homeowners, promising to solve the problems.

But there has been little result, they said.

Mission Foods was charged by the city attorney in 1985 with a similar violation.

The company pleaded no contest to one count of violating the state's air-pollution law and was fined $1,700, Tekosky said.

But the problems apparently have continued. The Air Quality Management District cited the plant for violations three times last month, Tekosky said.

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