It started last year when city code-enforcement inspectors, investigating complaints about noisy deliveries to the Heritage Plaza Ralphs, stumbled upon a fact that left store officials red-faced: The market was operating 24 hours a day without proper permits.
The City Council this week granted Ralphs the right to stay open around the clock, even though the Culver Drive market has already been operating under those hours for more than two years.
But responding to concerns of residents, the council also imposed strict conditions that regulate when deliveries can be made, and ordered that a barrier be erected at night to prevent trucks from bringing merchandise to the store.
"I think this will alleviate some of the problems the residents have been concerned with," Councilwoman Christina L. Shea said.
Under the conditional-use permit approved this week, Ralphs cannot accept deliveries roughly between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. on weekdays and between midnight and 8 a.m. on weekends. The permit also requires Ralphs to set up a chain barrier that blocks trucks from making deliveries during the restricted hours.
Donna M. LaPorte, who lives next to Heritage Plaza, submitted a petition to the city signed by more than 20 people calling for the installation of some kind of gate that would block late-night deliveries at the back of the shopping center.
LaPorte pointed out that other supermarkets in Irvine have even more restrictive delivery hours.
Ralphs representatives who attended Tuesday's council meeting said they accepted the conditions. They said the Heritage Plaza market converted to a 24-hour operation at the same time as many stores throughout the chain. The Irvine Ralphs simply neglected to get its conditional-use permit amended, they said.
Shea said she has asked city officials to see if there is a way that similar code violations can be detected more quickly.
"It seems to me that businesses need to comply with their" permits, Shea said. "If they don't, we need to be swift and follow through."