On Tuesday, July 12, the Irvine City Council voted unanimously in favor of a detailed motion that would work to expedite the removal of the All American Asphalt facility with the help of a special independent counsel.
The details are outlined in a three-layered action plan that will involve continuing settlement discussions with AAA, with a goal of near-term protections for residents.
More importantly, Irvine will work with its city attorney and an independent special counsel to research the issue of abatement. The city of Irvine will also explore ways in which it can set its own air quality regulation standards.
An update is expected at the July 26 City Council meeting.
Prior to the vote, dozens of Irvine residents, including former Irvine Mayor Christina Shea, local high school students and Irvine homeowners, spoke during the public comment period to address the relocation — or lack thereof — of the All American Asphalt facility.
The AAA facility has been at the center of controversy within Irvine’s Great Park neighborhoods in north Irvine due to the mounting complaints of noxious, foul odors emanating from crumb rubber manufacturing facilities.
Despite reporting odor events to the South Coast Air Monitoring District, the Irvine Police Department and independent air quality monitoring services, many residents say they feel they have no representation when it comes to their complaints.
Residents also addressed the fact that despite years of discussion over the asphalt facility – and the related volatile organic compounds it produces — there has been little to no action taken to permanently remove the asphalt-producing facility from the city.
Recently, there has been a focus on relocation, with the city working with the facility on a settlement.
Prior to the council’s discussion of agenda item 3.3, residents used their time to address several key aspects, including adverse health effects that could be linked to exposure to volatile organic compounds. Speakers called a lack of transparency when it pertains to any information involving the All American Asphalt facility.
Irvine City Manager Oliver Chi said through discussions in closed sessions the city had reached a tentative relocation agreement with the asphalt facility. Chi added that he has seen an equal effort from all council members regarding the facility’s status of relocation.
“I don’t see this AAA issue continuing to be the fault of any one person. It’s a complicated issue to work through,” he said. “Ultimately, what I think we’re hamstrung by is we have to follow a prescribed set of laws and regulations as it relates to the rights and projections that AAA does have, and how do we navigate those different legal avenues to get to the council’s goal.”
Still, residents say discussions have dragged on and fear the negative effects are already impacting their quality of life.
One speaker via phone, identified as Joe A., said the ongoing debate between the residents and the city is reminiscent of the environmental disaster in Porter Ranch.
“I lived in Porter Ranch in 2015, during the Porter Ranch methane gas blowout. I moved here [Irvine] one year ago, to what I thought was a safe community. What I have learned is that my family is living through the same nightmare. Community members complaining of respiratory symptoms, smells in the air, and unfortunately cancer,” he said. “Just like in Porter Ranch our elected officials and regulators are failing us.”
Tuesday’s item was agendized by Irvine Councilmember Tammy Kim and quickly became the subject of public criticism, with many speakers referencing the upcoming election as grounds for revisiting this highly discussed topic.
In her request to have the item placed on the agenda, a memo sent from Kim simply read, “my office respectfully requests that city staff provide an update on the matter regarding All American Asphalt at the July 12, 2022 City Council meeting,” according to the memo.
During the meeting, Kim explained that due to the elimination of the rule of two, she felt it important to bring the issue up for discussion.
“The residents deserve to hear what has been happening — quite honestly, now that the rule of two is gone, I wanted to have a discussion,” Kim said. Kim, who is also a resident of Northwood, defended herself against claims that this was fodder for her re-election.
Kim added that she wants the asphalt facility relocated, “completely and entirely,” but admitted she is concerned with the financial impact.
“We may not all agree on it. There are residents in other parts of Irvine that don’t necessarily want any tax dollars spent on it,” Kim said. “This is not political theater. I am not up for reelection. I have nothing to gain from a political perspective.”
Referencing the reports of negative health effects coming from the community, Irvine Mayor Farrah Khan asked Irvine City Attorney Jeff Melching if there was any possible way to correlate or determine if the AAA facility was to blame for certain illnesses.
“Comments we heard from the public are concerning when they talk about kids have cancer and things like that — how do we link what’s happening in the community to the facility – how does that happen?” Khan asked. “Is there a way to do that?”
Recognizing the seriousness of the issue, Melching said he did not want to attempt to minimize the seriousness of those circumstances.
“It’s a great question, and it’s a question of causation. Those circumstances are horrible. There are no two ways about it. But linking the emissions from the plant to those circumstances is a different, legal process standpoint. It would be incumbent to us as a plaintiff to show that causation,” he said. “That’s a significant issue of proof, and pursuing that kind of proof takes time.”
While the council agreed to seek a special council unanimously, Irvine Councilmember Mike Carroll was vocal that he saw issues within the SCAQMD’s ability to regulate air quality, which also pre-empted Irvine’s ability to do so.
“Why then, for 24 months, have I been under the assumption that we can’t regulate air quality around here,” Carroll asked. “Because if that’s the case I’ve personally done a disservice to these people.”
In 2020, the city of Irvine filed a public nuisance lawsuit against the facility due to ongoing odors. Yet, years later, little progress has been made.
Last year, Irvine wrote to Senator Dave Min to ask for assistance in changing legislation around asphalt production. In short, Min explained that there was nothing he could do without impacting the entire industry.
In February, the Irvine City Council announced a new framework would work to relocate the facility outside of the city. Then, Irvine Mayor Farrah Khan reported that the council directed city staff to pursue a settlement with All American Asphalt.
In March, Khan told Irvine Weekly the city had been working with the AAA facility, “for some time now.”
“As soon as we have confirmed these negotiations, we will bring this item to the Council for public discussion,” Khan wrote via text message.
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