Appeal to the request for modification
to the Use Permit (8957)
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Re: Appeal to the request for modification to the Use Permit (8957)
UP #06 10000045 for Pacific Steel Casting located at 1421 Second Street in Berkeley.Dear City Council:
L A Wood Appeal to Berkeley City Council. May 29, 2006

May 30, 2006Re: Appeal to the request for modification to the Use Permit (8957)
UP #06 10000045 for Pacific Steel Casting located at 1421 Second Street in Berkeley.

Dear City Council:
On May 11, 2006, the Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) approved the request to modify the Use Permit #8957 to allow the construction of a carbon filter system at Pacific Steel Casting, Facility No. 3, located at 1431 Second Street. Please be advised of both my written comments submitted to ZAB on May 10, 2006 and the following objections to ZAB’s approval of the modification to the use permit.

Open Meeting Violations

On the evening of May 11, ZAB passed a formal motion to table the discussion for Pacific Steel Casting’s Use Permit until the 18th of May. Then, ZAB waited until some community members had left to reopen the discussion on the use permit. The question to reconsider the earlier action regarding the scheduling of the meeting on the 18th of May should not have been allowed because it was improperly raised. The item should have been heard on the 18th of May. The transcripts of May 11th show that the action by the board to consider the permit request, at that time, was clearly illegal.

An examination of the hearing tape also shows that ZAB members breached the zoning hearing process by discussing with PSC’s Ms. Chan and their project engineer, details of the carbon absorption system during the time the Board was in recess. Perhaps it was the late hour that compelled board members to move forward with the board’s discussion instead of waiting for the meeting to officially begin again. The hearing transcripts excluded this discussion. It should be noted that the transcriber was officially on a break as was ZAB.

It is never appropriate to begin a discussion of a use permit after midnight. Given Pacific Steel Casting’s controversial zoning history, recent legal actions, community meetings and the foundry’s undeniable impact on west Berkeley, ZAB’s late night actions are quite egregious. It is not reasonable to expect that the public can participate at that late hour. The political imperatives to move quickly with this use permit, along with permit streamlining, are not justifications to streamline the public out of the legal process.

Unsubstantiated Assumptions

The Notice of Decision makes several assumptions about the carbon absorption system that are simply incorrect. This attempt to characterize the permit request as only a good thing is truly a distortion of the facts. This “spin” of the Notice of Decision clearly misrepresents the General Plan (Policy LU-3, LU-34). Consider the following:

• Assumption that the carbon absorption system will improve the company’s chances of remaining in west Berkeley. PSC’s longevity in west Berkeley is more directly linked to the growth in its operations, which has been expanding by leaps and bounds. Carbon filtration will not eliminate the impact of the emissions from this increased production. Moreover, gentrification is more than an idea in west Berkeley. Carbon filtration can never shield PSC from these facts.

• Assumption that the carbon absorption system will improve the environment and help maintain the ethnic and economic diversity of west Berkeley’s population. The truth is that 85% of employees at PSC live outside of Berkeley, some as far as 15 miles away. This does little to promote the ethnic diversity of west Berkeley. Further, there is no proof that the carbon system will improve the environment beyond some moderate degree of odor abatement. The proposed carbon system and facility alterations will allow for even greater production at the foundry. As in the past, more production will mean more pollution and air emissions for west Berkeley’s environment.

• Assumption that the carbon absorption system will allow the company to be more environmentally sensitive. The carbon system doesn’t make PSC more environmentally sensitive. In fact, the carbon system, as poorly as it works, will falsely justify PSC’s current and future increases in production. This will mean more airborne pollution and a much higher impact on residents, especially those living close by the foundry and who already suffer from breathing disorders like asthma.

• Assumption that the carbon absorption system will improve air quality for both workers and neighbors. The system may improve the air quality for employees working inside Facility No. 3 but not for those working outside or local residents. Certainly the central air quality issue for residents is the high level of particulates emitted from PSC. The carbon absorption system will do very little to address this major health concern.

Carbon Absorption Application Standards

The Notice of Decision states that the proposed carbon absorption system is “the standard odor abatement equipment required by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District”. Yet, BAAQMD fails to state that as a technology, it has not been widely applied to steel foundries. There has been no independent review of PSC’s adaptive use of carbon absorption technology. There are serious questions regarding whether the carbon scrubber system can maintain an adequate efficiency level. The use permit condition to review the effectiveness of PSC’s carbon absorption system is inadequate. A requirement for an independent, full review of the proposed carbon system and its effectiveness should be a condition of the use permit prior to approval.

CEQA and Environmental Review

The Notice of Decision avoids making much recognition of the increased levels of activity at the foundry and mostly focuses on the carbon system. PSC claims to be the third largest of its type in the United States. This is the best reason for a full environmental review, especially since there is no buffer for downwind residential properties. It is outrageous that the board would continue to shield the foundry from this critical requirement of the use permit. Exempt or not from a California Environmental Quality Act (CEAQ) review, the entire permit for Facility No. 3 should be required to complete a comprehensive environmental review. Council can and should make this a condition of the use permit.

At a recent BAAQMD director’s meeting, ACPO director Broadbent stated publicly that Berkeley’s zoning process, which has allowed the co-location of industry and housing, is the real problem. Even the city’s planning staff and zoning staff have raised this concern with PSC and other projects in this area of the city. Why hasn’t there been a move to update, or even review, this growing environmental conflict in the zoning of west Berkeley, especially air quality issues?
ZAB has decided to defer all questions about PSC for the next five years. If ZAB’s review in five years is anything like the current review, then it will be woefully incomplete as well. The annual review of the carbon system, without some greater context to consider it in, like an Environmental Impact Report, will never provide any verifiable data about the impact of PSC’s operations on the public’s health.

On May 5, 2006, PSC was served with a letter of intent to sue over issues surrounding compliance to the Clean Air Act. (See attachment 1.) Council should realize that a number of the issues raised in that letter focus on Facility No. 3 and the same use permit before you now. This action, and future lawsuits, will ultimately daylight the gross regulatory failures surrounding PSC, if Council takes no action to correct these injustices.

The Berkeley City Council should impose the mitigations listed below to ensure that BAAQMD moves us toward a better understanding of the public health issues surrounding the foundry, and most specifically, PSC’s emissions and their actual impacts on the surrounding west Berkeley community.

Use Permit Mitigations

It is requested that the following permit conditions be imposed on the current operations of Facility No. 3, regardless of whether Council moves to affirm ZAB’s approval of the proposed carbon absorption system or not. The 1991 use permit provides ZAB the discretion to:

1. Require PSC to conduct an independent Facility No. 3 screening-evaluation of human health risks for this specific part of PSC’s operations. This should be independent of the current facility-wide health risk assessment now promised by BAAQMD and should focus more directly on the use permit #8957 and its expanding activities at that site over the last decade.

2. Require PSC to conduct a screening evaluation of human health effects for all chemicals emitted from Facility No. 3, at the maximum quantities permitted.

3. Require PSC to complete a regimen of soils and dust testing and analysis in the vicinity of Pacific Steel Casting.

4. Require PSC to undergo a full environmental review to answer the many serious health questions that have been raised about the carbon absorption technology at PSC and the expanded operations of Facility No. 3 operations during the last decade.

5. Require PSC to install Continuous Emission Monitors (CEMs) on the facility’s stacks. Regulatory reporting of stack emissions could be made more transparent with monitors tied electronically to BAAQMD. This would also make that data more accessible to the Berkeley community.

6. Require PSC to conduct long-term ambient air monitoring for Facility No. 3 and with the specific requirement for placement of at least two air monitors at Facility No. 3. One monitor should be placed at the (downwind) fence line of Facility No. 3 and another monitor should be placed within the adjacent residential neighborhood.

The permanent placement of these monitors would allow for real-time, continuous monitoring of the chemicals, metals and particulate matter that are emitted by Facility No. 3. Even more important, this would begin to provide some verification to nearby residents that they are being adequately protected from PSC emissions, especially the high volume of airborne particulates.

The incomplete 1991 use permit is at the core of the current community conflicts with the steel mill, BAAQMD and the city. The injustices of such an outdated permit, and more than a decade of unanswered questions about emissions and health risks, must stop.

Today, City Council can help ensure that the health of west Berkeley residents is protected by insisting upon fence-line monitors and stack monitors as a condition of the permit. This expenditure is small when compared to the two-million-dollar investment in a carbon system whose effectiveness is unknown. When weighed against the health risks imposed on hundreds of nearby residents for over two decades, it is the only responsible thing to do.


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