At the urging of harbor area Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores, the Los Angeles City Council has unanimously taken action that could force a San Pedro scrap storage company off its Gaffey Street site.
The council instructed the city Planning Department and the city attorney's office to draw up an amendment to the zoning ordinance that would prohibit Hiuka America Corp. from running its scrap yard at 2100 Gaffey St.
If the proposed amendment passes the council, Hiuka America could be forced off the land it leases in as little as two years.
Flores introduced the motion just one day after the San Pedro and Peninsula Homeowners Coalition, which represents 20 homeowner groups in San Pedro, voted to ask her to do so. More than a dozen homeowners attended a coalition meeting this week to complain about Hiuka America's late-night operations.
The homeowners say the company, which ships scrap metal worldwide, makes noise and shines bright lights until the wee hours of the morning.
"It woke me up Saturday morning, 4 o'clock in the morning," one resident complained. "It sounds like a railroad car being dropped from a crane."
In response to such complaints, the coalition also recommended that Flores ask the city attorney to investigate whether Hiuka America could be declared a public nuisance.
Mario Juravich, Flores' assistant harbor area deputy, said the councilwoman will follow that recommendation, which could force a shutdown or cutback in operations without a zoning amendment.
The coalition meeting and council action are the latest events in an 18-monthlong dispute that has pitted the homeowners and Flores' office against the scrap storage company.
Last year, Flores' office sought twice to have Hiuka declared in violation of the zoning code. Both challenges produced rulings by a zoning administrator that Hiuka was in compliance with the code, although city officials acknowledge that the company is permitted to operate at Gaffey Street only because of a loophole in the zoning law. The law forbids junkyards and auto dismantling yards on the site but not scrap metal storage yards.
Recently, the company has met with the homeowners and Flores' representatives to discuss how to reduce the noise.
Company President David Creigh has said the company, which needs to be close to the port, would move if it could find space nearby, and is trying to be a good neighbor.
Not Good Enough
For instance, Creigh said in an interview, when neighbors complained that the scrap yard, which abuts the Harbor Freeway, was unsightly, Hiuka America spent $70,000 on a berm to hide the metal. When the berm was not enough, he said, the company spent an additional $25,000 to put up a 1,500-foot-long redwood fence. Hiuka America says it has also rearranged its scrap piles to buffer noise.
However, Tuesday night, the neighboring homeowners said no improvements would be good enough.
"We've come to realize that with their best efforts, the noise is inevitable in a scrap yard operation," said Sal Pardo, president of the Rolling Hills Highlands Homeowners Assn.
The council motion instructs city officials to write the law so it bans "any scrap metal collection, sorting, storage or bailing yards, including accessory or related uses."
If the council approves the proposed amendment, Hiuka America would be classified as a "nonconforming use" under the zoning code and would be forced to shut down its Gaffey Street operation within a specified period of time.
Officials originally said that period was five years. However, David Kuntzman, a planning assistant for the city, said this week that the code could be interpreted to provide for a two-year period. Kuntzman said planning officials will seek clarification from a zoning administrator.
Creigh, who was at the homeowners meeting but did not address the group, said afterward that he had hoped to continue his discussions with the homeowners and Flores in an attempt to dissuade the councilwoman from seeking the zoning amendment.