Amid ongoing settlement talks to potentially relocate the All American Asphalt plant in Irvine, city leaders on Tuesday, Sept. 13, are expected to discuss one councilman’s idea of instead condemning the operation, which some neighboring residents have complained about odors and other emissions.

At the request of Councilman Larry Agran, the City Council will talk about potentially launching condemnation proceedings that could allow the city to shut down the plant and take over the land for public use.

The councilman said he plans to talk more about an idea he has to turn the site into a conference and training center that he believes could open up the preserve in the northern part of the city “to public use and enjoyment.”

The discussion comes as the city and All American Asphalt officials are closing in on an agreement to settle a 2020 lawsuit filed against the company by Irvine on behalf of residents over claims that the operations at the plant have created a nuisance. City Manager Oliver Chi said an initial agreement could be ready for council review later this month.

Talks have centered around identifying steps for the company to relocate outside of the city, as well as implementing some odor-mitigating measures in the meantime, Chi said in a phone call Friday.

But Agran said he believes condemnation “would be a much more rapid process.”

“Although there are settlement talks underway, it is unclear to me that those settlement talks are going to produce a near-term solution of shutting down the plant and moving it to a new site,” he said. “So we need to look to a more expeditious solution.”

At a City Council meeting in July, Chi laid out steps that would be needed for the city to acquire the property through eminent domain. To do that, officials would have to meet certain standards, including ensuring that the land is required for “public interest and necessity,” that a project is planned there “to provide the greatest public good and least private injury” and that the property is needed to pursue the project.

Agran said his idea to build a conference and training center would serve “a higher purpose, a public purpose” by being a place that can host educational programs and serve as a training location to teach the public and professionals about preserving and maintaining open space and the “prevention and control of wildfires,” he said.

A trail system or renovated Jeffrey Road “would make for a wonderful gateway center opportunity.”

Acquiring the property through eminent domain would require the city to have an appraisal done on the property and offer “just compensation” to the owner, Chi has said. While the process of removing the plant would be quicker through a condemnation process, “you lose a tremendous amount of control over price, the cost of fixing the issue,” Chi said.

“If there is a condemnation proceeding that moves ahead, it’s imminently more expensive than any sort of fair market transaction that would occur in the normal course of business,” he previously told council members.

The potential cost of shutting down the plant “concerns me,” Agran said, but he added that “the settlement talks involve a cost of one kind or another to the city as well.”

For several years, residents have complained about about odors emanating from the asphalt plant that they believe may be toxic. The facility was cited eight times from September 2019 through January 2022 by the South Coast Air Quality Management District for odor violations. District officials previously said the company has taken steps to address the odors.

A representative for All American Asphalt did not immediately respond to requests for comments. The company, in response to the city’s lawsuit, has denied that emissions from its facility violates any laws or regulations.

Once situated in a remote part of the city, homes have filled in closer to the plant as the city has grown.

The Air Quality Management District last month approved a health risk assessment submitted by All American Asphalt, which reported that receptors showed low health risks that did not exceed that agency’s thresholds in nearby residential areas.

A receptor near the facility’s fence line showed a non-cancer acute hazard – mainly nickel emissions – that requires a public notification to be sent to the Irvine Ranch Conservancy and the Orange County Fire Authority, which have the most immediate properties, the AQMD said in an approval letter to the asphalt company.

Agran said he had “zero confidence in the AQMD’s work in these regards,” and questioned that 2016 data from the plant was used in the health risk report.

A spokesperson for the South Coast Air Quality Management District said the agency “stands behind the statements we have made about emissions and health risks from AAA.”

When the AQMD mandated that All American Asphalt initiate a detailed toxics report in 2020, the data from an every-four-year comprehensive emissions report in 2016 was the most recent available, said spokesman Nahal Mogharabi, adding that “there have been no substantial changes to equipment at the facility since 2016.”

“If there was an indication that emissions from AAA were causing major health risks to nearby residents, we would not hesitate to take additional actions,” Mogharabi said in an email. “We of course are aware of concerns raised about odors in these communities, however multiple lines of evidence indicate that emissions from the AAA facility itself do not cause health risks in the surrounding community to exceed South Coast AQMD thresholds.”

The City Council meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. Sept. 13.

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