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Downey Ready to 'Go to Great Lengths' to Get Pesticide Lab Moved

September 14, 1989|TINA DAUNT | Times Staff Writer

DOWNEY — Mayor Randall R. Barb looked at the crowd of people sitting restlessly in the City Council chamber. Then, focusing his attention on several Los Angeles County officials in the front row, he moved closely to his microphone on the dais.

"To put it very directly to you, we don't want (an insecticide repository) in our community," he told the officials, who are in charge of building a laboratory and warehouse for storing pesticides and other materials on county property on Downey's west side near South Gate. "It's important to us and we are willing to go to great lengths to make sure that it is not here."

The county officials fidgeted a bit. Others in the audience of about 350 cheered, howled and clapped.

If Downey officials and the residents who packed the City Council chamber Tuesday night could have their way, the county's insecticide repository, already under construction, would be moved as far as possible from the city limits.

But the options of city officials and residents appear to be limited.

City officials say that they did not realize until about a month ago that the county was building the facility in their city. A draft environmental impact report was submitted to the city in 1987, but city officials say they received no further notification and therefore did not bring it to the attention of the council.

County officials notified the city that the report was certified and that it followed all other legal procedures, said Richard C. Wightman of the office of the Agricultural Commissioner/Department of Weights and Measures, which will use the facility.

Hopeful of Relocation

Barb said after the meeting that he is "hopeful" the county will relocate the project. If not, the city will look for legal ways to try and stop the project, Barb said. Downey officials plan to form a task force to investigate the matter.

South Gate officials also are opposed to the repository at the Downey site. The South Gate City Council passed a resolution Tuesday denouncing the project and asking that it be moved elsewhere.

R.E. (Jim) Abbott, senior deputy director of construction and real estate for the county, said moving the location of the facility would be "a very tough decision." The county already has invested a considerable amount of time and money in the project, he said.

The foundation of the facility, located on a 1.68-acre site near the southwest corner of Imperial Highway and Garfield Avenue, already has been poured and the walls are about to go up.

At this point, county officials are trying to convince the City Council and residents that the facility--which will house thousands of pounds of pesticides, herbicides and ground squirrel poison--will be safe.

"I think in trying to look at it objectively," Abbott told the council, "it's as safe as it can be, given the nature of the facility."

Abbott assured city officials that no hazardous waste would be stored at the facility. He also said the facility's work area will be paved and drainage will be directed into a concrete sump to prevent soil contamination.

In addition, he said, the facility will be built in such a way that fumes during a fire would probably be contained within the facility.

However, Abbott acknowledged that several times a year gas would probably need to be released from the facility, a notion that angered residents.

"I don't want to see anymore children born without legs or arms because we're putting chemicals into the air," one angry resident told the council.

After the meeting, several residents stood outside the chamber talking and holding placards denouncing the repository.

"We're in total outrage," Elizabeth Taormina said. "The county feels confident that they can do whatever they want with their land. They're just thumbing their nose at us."

Taormina said within the past week, she and several other Downey residents have gathered signatures of between 700 and 1,000 people opposed to the project.

"People are angry and fearful," Taormina said. "They are very much afraid."

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