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The AQMD says such questions could only be answered by sophisticated analysis and it is not equipped to do any such studies. Spokesperson Sam Atwood said that the agency depends on the public to call 1-800-CUT-SMOG to report breathing problems, visible emissions or noxious odors.
“Our regulations are aimed at minimizing smog-forming pollutants,” says Atwood. “That minimizes odors, but there’s no guarantee there might not be odors even if a shop is in compliance.”
The ball seems to be in the court of local officials with more direct influence over land use. Bill Mason, the CRA’s NoHo project planner, says his agency considers the Burbank corridor “blighted.” He spoke at the hearing against granting the Tajerians conditional use and says he would do likewise at any such hearings for others in the future.
According to Mason, the CRA needs to decide “what we want that area of Burbank Boulevard to look like.” He suggests that such businesses may require their own industrial zone, and that perhaps the city can enact some sort of minimum “distance factor” for them.
Mason has been influenced by the activism of people like Carl Crew, Robert Ferguson and Maria Fant, and he’s not the only one. In a classic example of the squeaky wheel getting the grease, City Council Member Tom LaBonge, whose 4th District includes the Burbank Corridor, has taken action to address neighborhood complaints by requesting an AQMD sweep of the area. In late January, the AQMD inspected 15 businesses in that area of North Hollywood. According to spokesperson Atwood, most businesses were in compliance with AQMD regulations, but two facilities along Burbank Boulevard, Golden Touch Auto Body and Belagio Auto Body Shop, were found to be operating spray booths without proper AQMD permits. Four other auto shops were issued “orders to comply” by the AQMD.
Though Atwood says Golden Touch and Belagio subsequently applied for and received the proper permits, the results appear to support the legitimacy of complaints from activists that some auto-body shops are skirting the rules. Since then, LaBonge’s office has drafted an interim ordinance to restrict any expansion of auto-body shops in the area, an ordinance still awaiting council approval. But what if the auto-body shops extant are in compliance and the residents remain unsatisfied?
“We have to live within the law,” says LaBonge. “Zoning allows it. It’s not an illegal use. But it must be done properly. I promise we’ll work together to find solutions for everyone.”
Because of the way the area is zoned, the status quo is unlikely to change dramatically. Increased enforcement of existing regulations is certainly a plus, but it will not placate the most vocal activists.
“As a business owner, I want to breathe clean air,” says Crew. “I’m an artist, not a political activist. I don’t like doing this, but I will fight for my air.”
Less strident is Joe Hacker, an accountant who has lived on Martha Street for 26 years. In 1998, a mole on his chest was diagnosed as melanoma. This later metastasized to his brain, and he’s since undergone gamma radiation, brain surgery and chemotherapy.
“It’s certainly possible that there’s some linkage to my illnesses,” he says. “But the people in those businesses have families. They’re trying to earn a living. I don’t want to see them driven out. If you move them out and they’re what’s making people sick, they’ll just make people sick somewhere else. The main thing, I guess, is to get them to follow the law.”