Irvine’s All American Asphalt plant closes for the last time today, ending years of debate over how to handle one of the county’s biggest air polluters.
The factory’s closure came after a years-long campaign by residents living near it to have the plant shut down or relocated, with many saying the smoke it released into their neighborhoods made it difficult to breathe.
While the plant opened in 1993 with nothing around it, homes have eaten up most of the land around the plant over three decades of development, bringing complaints from residents that the factory should be closed or moved because the smell couldn’t be avoided.
“Sometimes we’d have the windows open and it wasn’t until 1 or 2 in the morning we’d wake up from the smell being so strong,” said Jillian Dale, an Orchard Hills resident who said it was a problem all five years she’d been in her house.
“It would be so bad we’d have to tape up under the vents to keep the smell out,” she said. “It’s just been a nightmare.”
Residents Rejoice as City Buys Out Factory
Over the past several years, Irvine City Council members and the South Coast Air Quality Management District have regularly butted heads over whose job it is to regulate the factory while residents asked for someone to intervene.
The city ended that debate in April, announcing they’d be buying the factory for $285 million, with plans to turn most of the land into a nature preserve while they sell off around 80 acres of land next to the preserve to a developer to offset the cost of purchasing the factory.
While the city has yet to unveil more plans for the land, City Manager Oliver Chi said Irvine is looking for developers and would discuss it more in early 2024.
Lesley Tan, one of the founders of the resident group Stop Toxic Asphalt Asphalt Pollutants in Irvine who led the fight against the factory, said she couldn’t wait to go outside without the “unpleasant odor.”
“It’s a big relief knowing what we fought hard for years, for the health and safety of our community, has finally concluded,” Tan said in a text.
Kevin Lien, one of the other founders, had similar feelings.
“The feelings of dread, the stress of incessant hyper vigilance, and the frustrations we collectively endured have become feelings of relief and elation,” Lien said.
Class Action Suit Against Factory Settled
All American Asphalt also settled a class-action lawsuit brought against the factory by some of the surrounding residents for $1.25 million, guaranteeing thousands of residents who live within two miles of the factory a payout.
To read the claim letter that was sent to residents, click here.
The settlement doesn’t make any determination on whether the factory was properly operated, and notes that it doesn’t stop anyone from seeking “claims for medical harm or personal injuries” in the future.
But it would block anyone from seeking damages over their property later on, and the original complaint was aimed at the “public and private nuisance” created by the factory, along with the “negligence” of the factory’s operators allowing it to pollute the neighborhood.
“If the Settlement becomes final, Class Members who submit a Claim Form or did nothing at all will be releasing the Defendant and all related people and entities from all claims which the Class Members ever had, now have, or can have, concerning All American Asphalt,” lawyers wrote on the notice.
The original complaint also included residents’ experience of living near the factory.
“Some of the days I just couldn’t walk outside. I moved here to enjoy the hike and walk but that is not happening,” wrote resident Lynn Wong.
Others noted how they couldn’t escape the smell inside their own homes.
“I have to keep my windows closed to prevent this smell from coming in now, which prevents me from having fresh air flowing through my house,” wrote resident Tracy Walker-Gaspard. “If I forget, it wakes me up.”
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
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