West Berkeley asphalt place to face permit re-examination

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Winky Wong/Staff

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A West Berkeley asphalt company will face further examination after Berkeley City Council discussed residents’ complaints of air pollution emissions from the plant Tuesday.

City Council voted to have the the Berkeley Asphalt plant’s use permit re-examined, as well as to investigate methods to address odors, dust and noise pollution that have bothered West Berkeley residents, some of whom have lived in the area for more than 20 years.

In addition, it was discussed at the meeting that the plant did not disclose on Bay Area Air Quality Management District permit applications that it was operating within 1,000 feet of city schools. Mayor Tom Bates currently sits on the air quality management board.

“It’s oppressive living in West Berkeley,” said Beth Montano, a West Berkeley resident. “The emissions interfere with every aspect of your life. The city has been deaf to us.”

The city’s Community Health Commission advocated holding a public hearing after it presented data indicating that West Berkeley had the highest rate of hospitalizations for children under age 5 for asthma. City Council, however, voted against holding a public hearing for the time being.

In the 1990s, two neighborhood groups, Citizens for a Better Environment and the Oceanview Neighborhood Association, brought legal action against the plant for allegedly using a permit without first preparing an environmental impact report.

Consequently, the city became party to a 1999 settlement with both neighborhood groups, along with the plant’s former owner. According to the settlement, which was terminated after three years, the city had an obligation to monitor the plant’s compliance with settlement agreement provisions regarding traffic, dust, noise and odor.

During the council meeting, Councilmember Laurie Capitelli called allegations that Berkeley Asphalt has not complied with stipulations of the 1999 mandate issued by the Superior Court of Alameda an “urgent matter.”

According to Kevin Gilmore, a West Berkeley resident, the plant had failed to disclose what chemicals were used in their asphalt grinding process and that living in the area is a “horrible experience.”

Councilmembers Linda Maio and Lori Droste will head a new city task force that will target residents’ concerns with air pollution, especially in the West Berkeley area.

“We’re working with the neighbors because we want to get a handle on what the issues are,” Maio said. “We have some pieces of the (1999) agreement, but I’m not sure if everything in it is there.”

Maio also said the Berkeley Asphalt plant has taken actions to address complaints, such as installing a noise barrier wall and muffler after residents complained about loud noise.

“We’re very, very eager to see them start,” Montano said about the task force. “We’re going to be watching closely, but I’m very hopeful.”

Adrienne Shih is the lead city reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @adrienneshih.