A Boyle Heights company that recycles oil and antifreeze thought its battle was done when it overcame neighborhood opposition to its expansion and won a rare permit from the state in June.
But Industrial Service Oil Co. Inc. has to keep fighting. Shortly after the permit was approved, the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency filed an unusual lawsuit against the state agency over the approval.
The CRA claims that Industrial Service's planned expansion, which would include storage of additional hazardous chemicals, would hinder future redevelopment projects planned for the area.
The agency also claims that the state Department of Toxic Substances Control should have referred the issue to local government.
It's typical for waste facilities to face opposition from residents and businesses nearby. But it is rare for an attack to come from a government agency after another government agency has given approval.
Industrial Service's 2-acre facility at 1700 S. Soto St. just north of the city of Vernon is just a few blocks from a redevelopment site: the old Sears property at Olympic Boulevard and Soto Street.
An ambitious plan by boxer Oscar de la Hoya's development company to turn the Sears site into a major mixed-use complex with 900,000 square feet of retail space and 800 housing units fell through earlier this year. Property owner Mark Weinstein's MJW Investments is now talking directly with retailers about opening stores on the site. The redevelopment agency will soon put out a request for development proposals.
Weinstein said that hazardous waste recycling won't help lure chain stores to the area.
"Why do anything to discourage retail development in an area like Boyle Heights that's so sorely in need of retail?" Weinstein said.
The planned expansion of the oil recycling facility was not the prime factor in the collapse of the Sears development plan the credit crunch has received much of the blame but the CRA nonetheless alleges in the lawsuit that any expansion of the plant would be "incompatible" with commercial and residential development nearby.
"The EIR failed to evaluate the potential environmental impacts and the serious health and safety impacts in the project area, where land uses will increasingly shift towards residential and commercial uses," the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit seeks to overturn the state Department of Toxic Substances Control's approval of the permit and bring the decision to local authorities. The CRA has support from Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo and area Councilman Jose Huizar, who has long opposed Industrial Service's expansion plan.
Repeated calls over two weeks to Industrial Service Oil President John Shubin Jr. were not returned.
Department of Toxic Substances Control officials said they gave all concerned parties during the three-year permitting process adequate opportunity to comment. An earlier permit approval was appealed by an Oakland-based environmental activist group.
A department official said that Industrial Service met all the requirements for the permit. Those include installation of proper containment systems in case of a spill or leak, and verification that the materials coming in or going out of the facility are properly labeled.
"Our field review team determined that the facility complied with the requirements and, therefore, the appeal was denied," said Allan Plaza, the agency's supervisor in charge of permit review and the person who authorized the permit.
Plaza also noted that the permit requirements for renewing or expanding used-oil recycling facilities are so strict that at least eight other facilities in California failed to meet them, leaving Industrial Services as one of just three oil recycling facilities in the entire state. One of the other facilities is operated by DeMenno/Kerdoon Inc. in Compton; the remaining one by Evergreen Oil Inc. in the Bay Area.
Opponents have targeted Industrial Service's plans to expand the types of chemicals it handles and increase rail delivery. Those would include solvents, plating metal waste, and other chemicals and materials deemed hazardous by the state.
"They are talking about hazardous wastes that are very dangerous," said Councilman Huizar.
It's unclear whether these additional chemicals would come from current customers.
The chief concern of opponents, mostly local residents, homeowner groups, politicians and the CRA, is the prospect of an accident involving the rail cars that could result in a toxic chemical release over the surrounding neighborhood.
"The main reason that we joined in this lawsuit is that DTSC issued this permit without analyzing the impacts of catastrophic release of hazardous waste from rail cars," said Adrienne Bloch, senior attorney with Communities for a Better Environment, an Oakland-based environmental advocacy group that handles "environmental justice" issues throughout the state.
Huizar noted that housing projects are within 500 yards of the site.
"No retail or residential center wants such dangerous industrial uses around them," he said.
Weinstein, the president of MJW Investments, which owns the nearby Sears site, said he has received many calls from local residents concerned that the expansion of Industrial Services could drive much-needed retailers away.
Weinstein said retailers could decide against taking a risk on the site due to the company's expansion. "It never helps a retailer considering a site to have an expanding industrial use nearby."
Huizar said neighborhoods such as Boyle Heights have economic development challenges, which include industrial uses that wouldn't be allowed in more privileged neighborhoods. He is opposed to any expansion of the Industrial Services facility for that reason.
"Boyle Heights has historically been the dumping ground for these facilities," he said. "And we're not going to put up with the same treatment anymore."
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