Council Considers Whether Pacific Steel Constitutes a ‘Nuisance’
By Riya Bhattacharjee, Berkeley Daily Planet, February 12, 2008
The Berkeley City Council will decide whether the odors from Pacific Steel Casting should be considered a nuisance during a meeting at the Old City Hall, 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, today. If so, it will refer the matter to the Zoning Adjustments Board for nuisance abatement.
Last week, Pacific Steel workers rallied in front of the West Berkeley-based steel plant, denouncing what they said were efforts by the council to push them out of the city.
More than 100 workers belonging to the GMP Local 164B took Wednesday off from work to protest councilmember Linda Maio’s request to the council to label odors from the plant a nuisance.
The group contended that if the city mandates conditions on the plant’s current permit, it might force the company to shut its Second Street site. Pacific Steel laid off 60 workers, about 9 percent of its workforce, on Friday, claiming that clients were canceling orders due to the uncertainty of the company’s future.
“Councilmember Linda Maio made a mistake by not dealing with Pacific Steel directly before she put the item on the agenda,” Ignacio de la Fuente, president of the GMP Local 164B and president of the Oakland City Council, told the Planet Friday. “The plant’s customers started reacting after she put the item on the agenda to declare it a public nuisance. They said they couldn’t trust the company to deliver their products anymore ... We lost 60 workers today. We are concerned about the loss of jobs we are going to suffer ... We are concerned that the city of Berkeley is even talking about any kind of a condition. This company pays more than a million dollars in taxes to the city. If you lower the hours and say you cannot cater to customers, then it will result in layoffs.”
Maio said she was only interested in Pacific Steel’s outlining a definite plan and timeline to reduce odors.
“The fact of the matter is the city has been on the sidelines while the air district acts with Pacific Steel,” she said. “I put it on the agenda so that the city can have some authority, a way of asserting itself. The definite evidence of continuous odor concerns even after installing a carbon absorption system in Plant 3 shows that not enough is being done.”
Pacific Steel submitted an odor control plan to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District in November that has yet to be approved.
“We all know we don’t want to shut the plant down and drive the workers to China,” Maio said. “They are worried about jobs and we are worried about odors. We need to find a middle ground.”
“I am not saying everything is beautiful and great,” De la Fuente said. “But there are ways to improve the environment and reduce emissions. But you can’t do it by endangering the workers.”
Odor complaints from residents resulted in the air district’s independent hearing board enforcing an unconditional odor abatement order on Pacific Steel in 1985. In 1999, the air district removed the abatement.
“There were very few complaints about odor between 1985 and 1999,” said Karen Schkolnick, air district spokesperson. “PSC appealed to the hearing board for the order to be lifted, and since there was a better inspection record, it was. Since then the air district has continued to inspect and enforce odor nuisance complaints.”
The air district has also sued Pacific Steel twice through the larger court system to address violations.
“In the last seven years, Pacific Steel has increased its productions, emissions and odor,” said L A Wood, who tested air samples taken near the foundry as part of the West Berkeley Community Monitoring Project last year. According to the community air test results, high levels of manganese and nickel were found at the Duck’s Nest preschool site, located a block away from the foundry.
Elizabeth Jewel, of Aroner, Jewel & Ellis Partners, the public relations firm representing Pacific Steel, told the Planet that it was impossible to tie the outcome of the test to one particular source.
The project, funded by the Bay Area Air Quality Monitoring District, used a calibrated pump for more than six months to gather particles on filters which were tested for heavy metal pollutants such as lead, manganese, nickel and zinc by a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved laboratory.
“We will be requesting a dedicated council meeting on the air monitoring and other concerns regarding Pacific Steel,” Wood said. “We will also ask the city to request further air district funding to continue our efforts for air monitoring West Berkeley.”
Bradley Angel, executive director of Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice, told the Planet that the test results indicated a threat to public health from Pacific Steel’s toxic emissions.
“High levels of toxic metals were found in the air even after the date that Pacific Steel supposedly installed pollution control equipment,” he said in an e-mail. “This shows that Pacific Steel must do much more to reduce and prevent pollution
Supplemental Agenda Berkeley City Council Regular Meeting
February 12, 2008
Item No. 23. Nuisance Abatement Against Pacific Steel Casting, 1333 Second Street
From: Councilmember Maio and Mayor Bates
Recommendation: Refer to the Zoning Officer initiation of nuisance abatement or other appropriate proceedings with respect to plants 1-3 at Pacific Steel Casting, 1333 Second Street, on the basis of odors.
Dear Mayor and City Council :
It is encouraging that City Council is willing to consider moving forward to resolve the longstanding odor nuisance associated with Pacific Steel Casting. In addition to the above recommendation, please consider creating a community-based Odor Task Force. This volunteer group could work with the Zoning Adjustments Board and Staff to advise the City Council on this issue of odor nuisance in Northwest Berkeley.
The odor task force could be responsible for the following:
- Review the history of BAAQMD odor complaint protocols and inspection procedures, and
- Identify the industrial processes responsible for generating odors, and
- Evaluate the chemical/metal/toxic nature of the odors, and
- Investigate methods for odor monitoring, detection and abatement technologies, and
- Develop both a council report and an odor monitoring plan.
A community-based Odor Task Force is the best way to help ZAB and City Council better understand this issue and to move toward some final resolution of this ongoing concern.
Berkeley City Council Agenda Item 23
Subject: Nuisance Abatement Against Pacific Steel Casting, 1333 Second Street
February 12, 2008, From: Councilmember Linda Maio
Subject: Nuisance Abatement Against Pacific Steel Casting, 1333 Second Street
Refer to the Zoning Officer initiation of nuisance abatement or other appropriate proceedings with respect to plants 1-3 at Pacific Steel Casting, 1333 Second Street, on the basis of odors.
Nuisance proceedings are likely to require significant staff time.
The Zoning Ordinance defines "noxious smells or fumes" as a nuisance. In addition, the Use Permits that govern plants 2 and 3 at Pacific Steel Casting prohibit unreasonable odors. Nonetheless, although Pacific Steel Casting has taken some measures to reduce odors, it continues to be the subject of continuing odor complaints from the affected community. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District has a protocol for responding to such complaints, and residents have followed this protocol. However this has not resulted in a sufficient reduction in odor from Pacific Steel Casting.
The Zoning Ordinance (BMC sections 23B.60.030 and 23B.64.030) authorizes the City Council to initiate nuisance proceedings with respect to Use Permits by a referral to the Zoning Officer, who must then set the matter for a public hearing before the Zoning Adjustments Board. Because remedies provided by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District have not been as effective as hoped, it appears to be necessary for the City to follow its established procedure to investigate these continuing complaints and to determine what, if any, remedy is appropriate.
Pacific Steel Workers Urge City to Defend Plant’s Presence in Berkeley
Riya Bhattacharjee February 15, 2008
The angry cries of several hundred Pacific Steel workers eclipsed the sound of bullhorns and jeers from the pro- and anti-war demonstrators outside the Old City Hall Tuesday to hear the Berkeley City Council rescind their resolution on the Marine Recruiting Center.
The workers turned up with families, friends and local activists around 7 p.m. to protest Berkeley Councilmember Linda Maio’s proposal to declare the West Berkeley-based foundry a “public nuisance” and refer it to the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board for odor abatement.
After an hour-long public hearing, the council voted unanimously to enter into an agreement with Pacific Steel to cut odor and emissions within a specific timeline. “We don’t support the war in Iraq and we don’t support the council’s effort to drive us out of the city,” said Union Local 164B Vice President Ignacio De La Fuente to roars of approval from his supporters.
De La Fuente addressed the union members from the City Hall steps while officers from the Berkeley Police Department controlled the crowd clustered inside metal barricades. Only 20 people were allowed to address the council on the matter. The rest egged them on with applause and cheers as they heard the live telecast from the lawn. The group contended that if the city mandates conditions on the plant’s current permit, it might force the company to shut its Second Street site.
Pacific Steel laid off around 30 workers on Friday, claiming that clients were canceling orders due to the uncertainty of the company’s future. De La Fuente had told the Planet last week that the plant had fired 60 workers (a figure that was confirmed by Pacific Steel’s spokesperson at the time), but he halved that figure on Tuesday (which was also confirmed as the accurate number by the company on Thursday).
“One of our biggest clients, PAC Car, said they don’t want to do business with us anymore,” Joe Emmerichs, general manager of Pacific Steel, told the Planet Tuesday.
“Many of our customers have been with us for decades. They are aware of the action the city is taking against the company. They submit their orders many months in advance of receiving castings and will not tolerate any interruption in supply.” Judy Maldonado told the council: “I, my mom, dad, husband and two brothers all work at Pacific Steel. My second baby is coming ... Pacific Steel is a safe place to work. We can take care of our babies because we have jobs at Pacific Steel ... Please work with the company and don’t destroy our lives.”
“Move your business out of Berkeley, move to Sacramento,” a few community members called out from their seats.
Christiana Chan, the company’s environmental engineer, said that a new carbon absorption system had been installed at Plant 3 in 2006. “A series of complaints were made when the company was not operating,” she said, referring to odor complaints made by community members to the air district.
Maio said that she had introduced the item on the council agenda as odor complaints had increased over the last three or four years. “In spite of the absorption system at Plant 3 the complaints are still coming,” she said. “I have no intention of taking away anyone’s job but we need a balanced approach. The company has had some lay-offs but that is not what I intended.”
“I am very angry that Pacific Steel said it lost 30 jobs because of this,” said Mayor Tom Bates. “That is so much B.S.”
Councilmember Kriss Worthington called the council agenda item “fatally flawed.”
“I do respect the intention and effort to get attention, but the report is not based on any facts,” he said.
Bates criticized Worthington for his comment.
“Mr. Worthington, you have two of the most outrageous things in agenda items 16 and 17,” he said, referring to Worthington’s proposal to proclaim February 2008 as Freedom to Marry month in Berkeley and a recommendation to send a letter to Canadian officials requesting sanctuary for U.S. war resistors respectively.
“For you to say we cannot have this on the agenda is outrageous,” Bates said.
Worthington condemned what he said was “very anti-neighborly” behavior on council’s part. “The hundreds who are here for the item are standing outside,” he said. “That is so disrespectful. This is not a way to treat the public.”
Maio said that Pacific Steel had been informed Friday that the item would be pulled off the council agenda. “And they still showed up,” she said.
“We should not blame the public for coming here,” Worthington said to applause from the workers. “This is what democracy looks like.” Pacific Steel recently submitted an odor- control plan to the air district which is currently awaiting approval.
Ye Lian Li, who immigrated from Thailand to the United States 22 years ago, thanked Pacific Steel for taking care of its workers. “Pacific Steel gave me a chance to learn English,” she said. “My children went to college because of it. If I lose my job, I won’t be able to pay my mortgage. Pacific Steel is our life.”
Workers in hard hats who worked directly with the foundry’s air system testified about the company’s efforts to improve the environment.
Paul Cox, who lives down the street from Pacific Steel, testified that odor from the plant has reduced over the years. “It used to stink more before,” he said. “But it seldom does now ... We need to work hard to keep those blue-collar jobs in Berkeley.”
L A Wood, who tested air samples taken near the foundry as part of the West Berkeley Community Monitoring Project last year, said that community did not want Pacific Steel to leave Berkeley. “This is not about driving the workers out,” he told the Council, “It’s about odor abatement.”
Pacific Steel to reduce odors: Berkeley council withdraws plan to dub firm public nuisance
Doug Oakley / Daily News Staff Writer
Pacific Steel Casting in Berkeley has agreed to voluntarily reduce noxious odors coming from its 2nd Street plants in the face of a city council proposal to declare it a public nuisance. After receiving a letter on Tuesday from Pacific Steel General Manager Joe Emmerichs agreeing to "cut odor and emissions while producing superior steel castings," Council Member Linda Maio pulled her proposal from consideration at the start of the council meeting.
Pacific Steel has said it would have to shut down and lay off 640 workers if the city went through with its formal nuisance proceedings - which could take time and end up in court - to alter its use permit.
"They are letting us know the use permit route is harmful to them, but they want to collaborate on an agreement that will still get us there," said Maio, whose West Berkeley district includes the plant. "I don't want a drawn-out process. There could be many public hearings, appeals and lawsuits, and it could be messy."
Maio said it has taken the city 20 years or more to get to the point of nuisance proceedings because the state of California, with its Bay Area Air Quality Management District, was first in line to get the steel foundry to clean up its act. Now that it has concluded a lawsuit that resulted in some environmental changes at the plant, the city gets its turn, Maio said.
Maio said she favors a negotiated plan with Pacific Steel because it will be faster, and the threat of starting nuisance proceedings can be held over its head in case it doesn't live up to the agreement.
Emmerichs, who brought about 250 union members to Tuesday night's council meeting to urge the city not to start nuisance proceedings, said "no comment" when asked whether he had cut a deal with the city to avoid the proceedings.
According to Mayor Tom Bates, Pacific Steel was told before the meeting that the item to start nuisance proceedings would be pulled because the city received the letter agreeing to negotiate. Bates wondered aloud during the meeting why the steel company brought its union members to the Tuesday meeting anyway.
"We met with Pacific Steel on Friday, and we said we are pulling this item and you show up with all these people to harangue us," Bates said.
In its letter, Pacific Steel claimed it already has laid off 30 workers because some of its customers have gotten wind of the proposal to tamper with its use permit and have gone elsewhere.
Maio said her intention was never to shut down the plant or to put people out of work.
"Now we have their attention," Maio said. "(Nuisance proceedings) are our leverage point. I've been saying all along I don't want to jeopardize their contracts and lose jobs."
Maio said Pacific Steel officials have shared their plans to change what is called an aromatic compound that is used to hold its sand steel molds together. Called phenol, it is probably what people are smelling when it gets hot as molten metal and is poured into the molds, she said.
Community Questions Berkeley Mayor About Pacific Steel Agreement
Riya Bhattacharjee, Berkeley Daily Planet, July 11, 2008
Almost five months after the Berkeley City Council voted unanimously to enter into an agreement with Pacific Steel Casting to cut emissions and odor within a specific timeline, community activists met with Mayor Tom Bates and Councilmember Linda Mayo at the City Hall Wednesday for their first update on the process.
The council decided at the February meeting to give Pacific Steel a chance to address the community's concerns. At that meeting several hundred angry Pacific Steel workers rallied to oppose Maio's proposal to declare the West Berkeley-based foundry a “public nuisance” and refer it to the city's Zoning Adjustments Board for odor abatement. They feared such moves might cost them their jobs.
“It is amazing that it would take five months for the community to finally come to the table over this,” local activist LA Wood said.
Bates informed the group that the foundry had upgraded two of its plants and said it was scheduled to release an odor management plan in fall.
“Between Jan. 1 and June 30, complaints have dropped 50 percent compared to the same period last year,” Bates said. The foundry has received 126 complaints related to odor this year, down from the 243 received within the same timeframe last year, he said.
The citizen group pressed the mayor to establish a community-based odor task force to allow citizens to monitor Pacific Steel's odors actively.
Wood, one of the principal proponents of the idea, said the task force would be responsible for reviewing the history of the odor complaint protocols and inspection procedures of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and developing an odor monitoring plan.
Neighbors have complained about a burnt copper-like smell from Pacific Steel for more than 20 years.
Some, like Rosie Evans, who was at Wednesday's meeting, have filed a class action nuisance lawsuit against the foundry for negligence, trespass, public and private nuisance, intentional misrepresentation and unlawful business practices.
“Pacific Steel is finding that when odor complaints come in, it relates to Plants 1 and 2,” Bates said. “It's trying to seal some of the fugitive air. Inspection activities are being focused on Plant 1.”
Elizabeth Jewel of Aroner, Jewel and Ellis, the public relations firm representing Pacific Steel, said three major improvements have taken place since the council meeting in February.
“We have installed a new hood in Plant 3, which will route the emissions into the carbon filters more efficiently,” Jewel told the Planet Thursday.
She added that the company was waiting for a permit from the air district to carry out major upgrades in Plant 1 in order to cut down fugitive emissions, including a new hood and new ducts in various locations throughout the plant.
“We are looking for ways to also improve the efficiency of the ventilation systems in Plant 2,” she said. “Since Plant 3 has the newest carbon system, we are spending time on upgrading plants 1 and 2.”
Pacific Steel spent about half a million dollars for improvements on plants 1 and 3 this year, Jewel said.
Bates said the air district has completed its review of Pacific Steel's Health Risk Assessment Report and has sent it back to the steel plant since it required several corrections.
According to a letter from Brian Bateman, director of the air district's engineering division, the district found the report to be “comprehensive and completed in accordance with established guidelines and approved protocols,” except in certain sections which have to be revised and turned in by Aug. 4.
“What we haven't been able to define is where the odors are coming from, specifically which plant and their chemical components,” Wood said. “We were looking for a public process to go forward with it. We want to go down and find the history and nail it down.”
Denny Larson, director of Global Community Monitor, also requested the city to work with citizens to address neighborhood concerns.
Larson's organization will be holding a community meeting about Pacific Steel's emissions on July 31, from 7-9 p.m., at the Berkeley Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church, 1400 Eighth St.
Maio said she would ask the city's health department to investigate emissions from Pacific Steel