State Senator Dave Min and Irvine City Council members are locked in a debate over who’s best suited to handle the asphalt factory on the edge of town, and neither side thinks they can do more for nearby residents.
Over the past year, the city council and the local air quality district have repeatedly wrestled with how to handle a production plant owned by All American Asphalt just a couple miles away from Irvine homeowners, who say the factory’s operations have ruined their neighborhood and made the air unbreathable.
To date, the city has sued the plant on civil public nuisance charges, conducted air quality tests, implemented odor disclosures for new homeowners and required trucks to leave the factory on different roads — all of which had little to no effect on the problem.
At their Nov. 9 meeting, Irvine City Council members revealed a letter they sent to Min, saying they’d run out of ways to help their residents.
The letter, signed by all five council members, argued the state’s larger resources made them better suited to handle the problem.
“While the City’s efforts have been substantial, the (All American Asphalt) problem and the community’s concerns persists,” council members wrote. “We believe that your position in the State Legislature makes you uniquely situated to help solve some of the financial and legislative roadblocks that the City has encountered in its efforts to help the community.”
The rest of the letter asked Min to expand the power of local agencies to enforce restrictions on the factory, create new laws surrounding transportation of asphalt and even use state dollars to buy up the plant and shutdown production.
But Min says that this isn’t a state issue.
Instead, he said the city has more power than they’re choosing to acknowledge, openly stating that the city’s not doing as much as it could be.
“My office has researched your suggestions to address these emissions and has determined that the City of Irvine is much better situated and has much better options at its disposal than the State for addressing this local issue, and I urge you to act accordingly,” Min said. “Contrary to the assertions made in your November 8 letter, the City of Irvine already possesses broad and sweeping authority to act immediately and decisively.”
Min urged council members to consider suing the factory again, this time pursuing criminal charges against the plant or pursuing an injunction that would require it to close until the issue was decided in court.
“If the Irvine City Council were to declare the [All American Asphalt] plant a public nuisance and direct its City Attorney to proceed under the terms of these criminal statutes, it seems likely that the AAA plant would immediately cease or at least abate the emission of the offending odors,” Min wrote.
Min also brought up concerns that it was “impossible,” to quickly find a solution via state legislation, and that since it was a local issue it should be handled by local officials.
Residents living near the factory praised Min’s response, saying the council was trying to pass the buck.
“Senator Min’s letter made it clear that the City of Irvine has had ample authority to act, and their attempts to try to make this a statewide issue is unfortunately a delaying tactic,” said activist Kim Konte in a text message to Voice of OC. “The noxious air events continue to flood our neighborhoods and schools.”
However, many on the council disagreed with Min’s interpretation of their actions, with Councilwoman Tammy Kim saying his decision to send the letter out publicly was “flamboyant and grandstanding,” and that the council had done all they could.
“If there’s anything we can do, I’m open to whatever it is, I desperately want this closed, relocated, but we as a city it’s beyond our jurisdiction to help,” Kim said in a Tuesday phone interview.
Councilman Anthony Kuo agreed with Kim, saying the letter left him “disappointed.”
“His representative had come to a previous meeting stating that he would make himself available to help, whether it was his office or through legislation,” Kuo said. “Absent having further conversations, I think he basically shot down every single one of our requests to him.”
Kuo and Kim also said even when the council has taken action on the plant, they’ve been attacked for it, pointing to activist groups who said the city wasn’t going far enough when it implemented new measures last month such as new property disclosures explaining the plant’s presence and effect on the area.
“I think in the eyes of some residents nothing we do will ever satisfy them absent shutting down the plant, which the city’s position is we’re not in a position to do that,” Kuo said.
Councilman Larry Agran said he agreed with Min’s letter, adding it should be secretly reviewed by the city council in closed session to determine if they’re being too soft in their legal approach.
“The fact of the matter is we have a major polluter there and we do have local tools available to us and I think our legal posture has not been strong enough as a city,” Agran said. “We should exploit the real authority available to us.”
When asked to comment what actions he thought the city should take, Agran declined to comment on specifics, saying those were best discussed behind closed doors.
Mayor Farrah Khan and Councilman Mike Carroll did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.
The council’s next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, but they are not planning on discussing the letter according to their meeting agenda.
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.