October 4, 1995
By Yolanda Reynolds
Sixteen acres in the Kelly Park/Senter Road area could become the largest auto wrecking yard in Northern California.
Pick-Your-Part, a company based in southern California, plans a major expansion in the Bay Area. It already has a Pick-Your-Part yard on two lots at 2557 and 2885 West Winston in Hayward, California.
The planning process for the approval of this wrecking yard began last Wednesday, with public hearings on September 27, when Pick-Your-Part spokespersons presented their plan to the City’s Planning Commission for approval.
The site that they want rezoned, in order to accommodate the wrecking yard, is located at the corner of Senter Road and Phelan Avenue in San Jose.
Nearby is Kelly Park that includes Happy Hollow, the Beautiful Japanese Garden and the San Jose Historical Museum as well as homes of many residents of whom the majority are Hispanic, Asian, Filipino and other minorities.
For major projects, this particular proposal was on an especially fast track towards approval. It had been announced that the City Council would review the proposal for final approval on Oct. 17.
A similar proposal, by the same company and the same site, came before the City Council six years ago but, even though it had received Council approval a major nearby politically connected landowner, Phil DiNapoli, filed a suit saying that locating such a business in the area was like, “throwing a bomb into the neighborhood.” He now says that he approves of locating the wrecking yard at this location, because the company this time has addressed his concerns.
After the disagreement six years ago, DiNapoli purchased a part of the property and is now selling it to Pick- Your-Part. He says that terms of the sale require that, instead of having the wrecked cars prominently visible along Senter Road, the wrecked cars instead will face Phelan and Tenth Streets.
Also, the Senter Road side of the site will have shrubbery and an eight foot high wall that will serve as a sight barrier for the junk cars in the Pick-Your-Part customer parking lot.
After much testimony and new information, the City Planning Commission determined that the Commission needed to gather more information before they would make a recommendation and delayed their decision‚ for Nov. 1. The hearing which began at 7p.m. did not end until almost 12 am. 0ver 75 people and other group spokespersons urged rejection of land use request.
Promoters of this business have claimed that this operation is a “state-of-the-art” operation. They also claim that it will bring business and jobs to San Jose.
The claim of a “state-of-the-art” operation gives the impression that unlike the image of some wrecking yards there will be no contamination and toxic spills. They say that in some way, this operation is quite different and that the facility will be clean and not an eyesore.
To those whose only knowledge of this operation has been statements by the wrecking yard operators. Wednesday, night’s photos and testimony left no doubt that this business was just like the worst type of wrecking yard operation, upon viewing photos of the Pick-Your-Part Hayward and Fresno sites.
The Baykeeper, an environmental group who provided these photos, pointed out that the contamination is severe and includes such toxics as oil grease, auto freeze, brake fluid, gasoline and glycol, in addition to piles of jumbled and rusting metal.
Because of the environmental risk to the Bay, the Baykeeper community based organization served the Pick-Your-Pan facility in Hayward with an “intent to sue.”
A notice was given for conditions at the facility which they say has resulted in “oil and other hazardous pollutants flowing into water channels and wetlands on city and regional parkland adjacent to the facility.”
The Baykeeper is, “the only on the water citizen monitoring organization working to reduce pollution of San Francisco Bay.”
If Pick-Your-Part does not clean up what its critics say are now the results of years of accumulated and deeply soaked contamination within sixty days, the company will be served with a law suit.
The Pick-Your-Part cost to acquire the San Jose site is reported to be $10 million dollars. With that initial cost, knowledgeable auto wrecking operators say that. projections of an annual take-in of 20,000 cars would not be enough to recover their initial investment and also pay for operating costs, thus requiring an even larger operation than that projected by the company spokespersons.
According to testimony by the yard spokespersons at the Planning Commission hearing, a daily average of 61 cars will be hauled into the wrecking yard. If these numbers are correct it appears that hauling (towing) will take place on weekends and holidays as well, since an average of 61 cars every day throughout a year
barely meets the numbers of cars which the operators say that they will be processing each year.
The Pick-Your-Part company plans include 250 parking spaces and predict that there will be 1000 auto trips daily to and front their facility.
In addition to water and soil contamination of nearby parks and residences, the Coyote River flows nearby and is also at risk. The City, along with many environmentalists, say that preserving urban rivers is one of its top priorities.
Environmentalists, realizing the problems arising from a lack of what is known as a “best practices management” attitude for strict adherence to EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and other similar city environmental regulations by the Pick-Your-Part officials, are getting involved in the dispute along with the nearby residents.
Many residents are represented by the Happy Hollow Neighborhood Association.
The Happy Hollow Neighborhood Association points out that the increased auto and truck traffic will have a very negative impact on their quality of life, along with the ground and water problems this operation will create. Their concerns are real. An intent to process 20,000 autos per year at the site would likely involve towing cars here from other cities.
Lower income communities already have many problems, often exacerbated by poor quality home construction that requires constant and expensive repair to maintain and too often, their reluctant and negligent absentee landlords pay little attention to their homes other than to collect rent. Such a facility near by just adds to their problems. There are over 240 units in the nearby affordable apartments and there are 60, recently constructed, owner occupied, affordable condos there as well.
Some parts of the neighborhood have small, but comfortable homes whose current market value will be affected by such an undesirable and difficult to monitor business in their midst. One nearby resident and critic pointed out to the Planning Commissioners that the reason for the proposed eight-foot wall along Senter was not so much to hide the type of business to the passing traffic as to hide the filth and contamination caused by poor management practices of Pick-Your-Part officials.
Many community advocates believe that the intended site for this type of business should be located instead in a property already zoned for “heavy industry” and not near homes, parks and a river.
The wish to locate it in this largely minority neighborhood many say is a classic example of “environmental racism.”
According to a December 1994 two-day hearing conducted in 0akIand before an international delegation of the World Council of Churches to gather evidence of racism as a violation of human rights in the United States environmental racism is a reality. In attendance at the conference were Bay Area politicians.
Kevin Fagin a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle entitled “Grim Picture of Racism in the 90s” points out that “the report ticked off a litany of abuses against people of color in the United States from their over representation in the prison population and the toxic pollution in their neighborhoods to the constant trampling of indigenous people’s rights.”
In another article entitled “Rural Residents Right Toxic Dumps,” Chronicle writer Reynolds Holding, reported that three communities in California (in Kent County, Imperial and King County) have filed federal complaints against two waste companies and an array of local and state agencies for violations of their civil rights for approving the placement of dumps in their communities.
These groups point out that there is a tendency across the nation to locate undesirable facilities and to dump hazardous materials in predominantly Hispanic and low income communities.
Pick-Your-Part of Hayward has been cited for over 6,000 violations of the Clean Water Act and have to correct them in order to avoid a law suit.
District 7 City Counselor George Shirakawa in whose district includes this property says, “the opposition to Pick-Your-Part is coming from other area competitors.” He adds, “l will not deny a reject because other operators fear competition.”
Shirakawa says he “doesn’t believe people will go into the Rocksprings area to work on their cars _ I wouldn’t make a decision to hurt my community.” He is pleased they are coming to that neighborhood because they will be providing jobs to neighborhood residents. Pick-Your-Part will provide a city-wide collection center for the hazardous waste, freeon and discarded refrigeration units.
Shirakawa explained that he had not seen the Hayward site and has not considered going there and says so far doesn’t “have a reason to go there.” He did visit a Pick-Your-Part futility in Anaheim. Councilman Shirakawa said the project proposal will probably come before the City Council by the end of November or two weeks after a decision by the City of San Jose Planning commission. © La Oferta Newspaper.