Owner Vows to Remove Rubble Heap


Prosecutors and the owner of a 50-foot-tall mountain of freeway rubble in Huntington Park negotiated a plan Friday to clean up the 5-year-old heap that neighbors say has created dust and health problems.

Under the court-approved plan, Sam Chew, the owner of the pile, must begin clearing away 20,000 tons of concrete per month, starting Jan. 13. The entire cleanup could take as long as 18 months because the pile could contain as much as 300,000 tons.

Municipal Judge Kenneth Lee Chotiner--who supervised the agreement talks--and Chew’s attorney expressed satisfaction with the plan. But prosecutors said they fear Chew will delay the cleanup--as they said he has done since he was prosecuted in 1997 for illegally stockpiling the freeway rubble, left over from the Northridge earthquake.


“I would be surprised to find that the pile has been touched on Jan. 13,” said Huntington Park City Prosecutor William Litvak.

Chew’s attorney, Levi Uku, said his client will comply. “It is in Mr. Chew’s interest to resolve this matter as quickly as possible and move on with his life,” Uku said.

Chew had planned to grind up the concrete chunks and sell the gravel for road base. His attorney estimates that the rubble is worth $3 million. But prosecutors say that Chew never had a permit to store or process the massive heap at the 5 1/2-acre recycling firm on Alameda Street. Neighbors--who refer to the heap as La Montana, “the Mountain”--say dust from the rubble has given them asthma-like breathing problems, headaches and bloody noses.

Responding to neighbors’ complaints, the city of Huntington Park prosecuted Chew. He pleaded no contest in 1997 to nine counts of creating a public nuisance, and was sentenced to clean up the pile, pay $20,000 in restitution and serve 100 days of community service.

But Chew, city prosecutors, air quality officials and environmental activist have been bickering over a cleanup plan for two years, prompting Judge Chotiner to order all parties into his courtroom this week to hash out an agreement.

“This was envisioned as a massive settlement conference,” Chotiner said in court.

Points of contention included the pace of the cleanup and whether Chew would be required to have a dust control plan approved by the South Coast Air Quality Management District.


Chew’s attorney argued that a dust control plan was not required in previous discussions. He suggested that the plan call for the removal of 10,000 tons per month.

But the judge required the dust control plan and imposed a 20,000 tons per month cleanup schedule. The removal work will be conducted five days a week, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Left unresolved Friday was Chew’s restitution. Litvak asked Chotiner to put off collecting any money until after the rubble has been cleared.

The cost of the cleanup is to be paid from the sale of the rubble. But neither side is certain how much the cleanup will cost, largely because the two sides cannot agree on the actual size of the heap. Estimates range from 100,000 tons to 300,000 tons. Because of the dispute, it is unclear whether Chew will end up with a profit or a loss after the site is cleared.

Litvak and environmental activists argued that the court should not allow Chew to profit from the sale of the rubble.

Carlos Porras, executive director of Communities for a Better Environment, a San Francisco-based advocacy group, said his group has spent about $500,000 in legal fees and other costs to press for the rubble cleanup.


“It has cost everyone except Sam Chew,” he said.

Chew is scheduled to begin his 100 days of community service next week with a Caltrans freeway cleanup crew.

One of the reasons the cleanup has been delayed for more than two years was that Chew filed for bankruptcy in December 1998.

Litvak said he will fight any efforts to let the bankruptcy delay the latest cleanup plan. Chew’s attorney declined to discuss the bankruptcy.

Neighbors who attended the court hearing Friday said they were cautiously optimistic that an end to the neighborhood eyesore was near.

“I’m sure it’s going to be cleaned up one way or another,” said Linda Marquez, whose apartment on Cottage Way looks out on the mountain.