After years of activism, residents in north Irvine are still struggling to handle the asphalt factory just a few miles away from their homes as local officials figure out how they want to respond to air quality complaints.
Irvine residents have been reporting smells from the All American Asphalt facility for years, but the issue took center stage in Irvine earlier this year after a Voice of OC report highlighted a study from residents showing the impacts on their daily lives.
While the South Coast Air Quality Management District, the chief state agency in charge of regulating Orange County’s air quality, have studied the emissions and claim they aren’t harmful, residents are still pushing for the site to be shut down due to what they say is a public nuisance.
On Tuesday night, Irvine City Council members approved a series of new measures designed to regulate the factory, including new required truck routes for any vehicles leaving the factory and new property disclosures about the smell for anyone interested in buying a home.
However, the council refused to set up a new hotline system for residents to call in and report odor events after staff said it would cost an estimated $800,000.
Kim Konte, one of the residents who has led the effort to shut down the factory, said the city’s failure to create the hotline was a “joke,” Wednesday afternoon text message.
“Council majority wouldn’t even ask staff to come back with alternatives!” Konte wrote. “Just shows they are not serious.”
The state government could also be taking a larger role in the issue, with the council sending a letter to state Sen. Dave Min asking for him to start lobbying state dollars to fund the relocation of the asphalt factory altogether or pass legislation letting the air quality district go after the factory.
“(The air quality district) has been hamstrung by State Law requirements that mandate a minimum of six verified complaints per “event” before (the district) will take enforcement action,” the council wrote. “This experience leaves the residents feeling helpless; it should not be this difficult to mobilize (the district’s) enforcement authority.”
The city was originally considering paying to remove the asphalt factory itself, but said the financial lift was better suited in the state’s hands than theirs at their Tuesday night meeting.
But as the council approves new limitations on the factory, the city’s planning commission just approved an expansion of homes near the factory proposed by the Irvine Company, setting up 257 acres of new development for homes, parks and daycare centers right next to the factory, according to a city staff report.
While residents near the factory originally protested the expansion, they backed off at the next meeting, announcing on their Facebook page they’d made progress in talks with the Irvine Company on how to handle the factory’s impacts.
“We need time to work collaboratively with the Irvine Company to get a solution,” the unsigned post said. “Hit the pause button please, so we can make progress on this as this is about getting air that is safe to breathe for our children.”
Konte said while she was excited to see the new progress with the developer, they had yet to obtain any written commitments from the Irvine Company as of Wednesday morning.
At the planning commission’s meeting on Oct. 21, Jeff Davis, a vice president of the Irvine Company, described the company’s meetings with residents as “heartfelt,” with the goal of finding a solution to the problem.
While the city government appears to have largely given up on the air quality district stepping in to fix the problem, residents are still fighting with the air quality district to get more oversight of the factory.
Residents filed an appeal to the air quality district’s hearing board, requesting a repeal of the district’s decision to let the plant recycle tires earlier this year that increases the total output of the factory along with the smell according to residents.
Previously, the system was allowed to move around between multiple facilities managed by All American Asphalt, but it is now permanently parked at the Irvine location.
In addition to the appeal, residents are still fighting with the district over its air sampling measures in their neighborhood.
For an official report to be taken, at least six confirmed complaints have to be submitted close together — meaning an inspector has to go down to the neighborhood and speak with all six people who file a complaint and detect the smell themselves.
Most of the time, that means no official record of the factory’s smells gets recorded.
The air quality district is also running into its own struggles with the factory.
On Oct. 22, the factory submitted an Air Toxics Inventory report that catalogues everything the factory is pushing out into the air.
The air quality district rejected the report due to “technical deficiencies,” but said that the information they had sent was enough to warrant a Health Risk Assessment of the factory that must be completed by Feb. 3, 2022.
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @NBiesiada.