Marching to the chant of "Comunidad, si! Montana, no!" with a 60-foot mountain of debris as backdrop, a residents group gathered last week at the gates of a concrete recycling plant to demand that the city take quicker action deciding whether the company should continue operating.
Two hours after the afternoon demonstration at Aggregate Recycling System's South Alameda Street plant, 30 members of the group took their protest indoors at the Monday night City Council meeting.
Residents, who were organized by Citizens for a Better Environment, voiced their concerns over Aggregate's impact on their Cottage Street community, which faces the back side of the year-old plant.
"They were supposed to keep the mountain to the level of the fence," said Linda Marquez, a 40-year Cottage Street resident. "As it gets higher, the wind hits the concrete and blows dust all over us."
Last month's rainfall helped subdue the dust problem, Marquez said. But as the recycler continued to grind concrete into material for roads, the recent sunshine has brought back the soot on her windows--a visible symbol of concern that the residents' health is suffering.
The group points to a study commissioned by LA CAUSA, a Los Angeles environmental organization that appealed the Planning Commission's decision to allow the company to operate for another year. LA CAUSA's study claimed that Aggregate emits toxins into the air.
The City Council is awaiting an air-quality analysis before it decides whether to extend Aggregate's permit to operate.
"We thought all this was going to be on a quicker timeline," said Henry Gray, assistant director of community development. "We were expecting information by the middle of January." A preliminary study by the South Coast Air Quality Management District was to be ready for the Jan. 17 council meeting.
"It would really be impossible to do a scientific study right now because of the weather," said AQMD spokesman Tom Atwood. "It would be best to monitor the plant when it's in operation. If you're going to get dust, then it's going to be when the concrete is being crushed (rather) than when it's sitting around."
District surveyors visited the site three times unannounced and found no violations. Atwood said it would take at least one month for a study of Aggregate. City officials are to meet with the AQMD by the end of the month to determine a date.
"When we get the report, we will act," Councilman Tom Jackson said. "But just because you come out and say 'I'm sick' does not mean that this company is guilty of making you sick. Until we find out who that guilty person is, we can't be running around closing down (facilities) until we have the information."
Aggregate owner Sam Chew has contended that the source of contamination could be from other industrial facilities near the plant such as Saroyan Lumber Co. and Commercial Enameling Inc., a company specializing in enameling bathroom fixtures.
Showing council members an enlarged picture of a portion of the concrete hill, Carlos Porras, Southern California director of Citizens for a Better Environment, emphasized the importance of moving swiftly in terminating Aggregate's operating permit.
Porras claimed that the photograph proves the existence of asbestos-laden concrete materials, which by law should be taken to landfills.
"Nowhere in the conditional use permit does it specify what type of debris Aggregate should not grind down," Porras said.
"If (Chew) doesn't have to care what materials he accepts, then he doesn't know what's there."