Skip to main content.

Hazardous waste site to open in this Fresno neighborhood. Is it a ‘necessary evil?’

Fellowship Story Showcase

Hazardous waste site to open in this Fresno neighborhood. Is it a ‘necessary evil?’

Picture of Monica Vaughan

Reporter Monica Vaughan contributed to this story with support from USC Annenberg’s Center for Health Journalism 2022 California Impact Fund.

The County of Fresno’s Regional Environmental Compliance Center located on a 2.67 acre parcel of land, shown Wednesday, May 18,
The County of Fresno’s Regional Environmental Compliance Center located on a 2.67 acre parcel of land, shown Wednesday, May 18, 2022 in Fresno.
ERIC PAUL ZAMORA ezamora@fresnobee.com
The Fresno Bee
Wednesday, June 8, 2022

By Brianna Vaccari

Fresno County is relocating its hazardous waste facility from near Kerman to the city of Fresno so that it’s more convenient for residents to properly dispose of household contaminants.

But, the new site located on the southwest corner of Dan Ronquillo Drive and south West Avenue is located in a ZIP code that already is the most polluted in the state, according to the CalEnviroScreen, a state environmental health analysis tool. Plus, residents advocating for cleaner and healthier south Fresno neighborhoods said businesses and neighboring communities were unaware of the project.

County officials said they hope a more convenient location will encourage higher use of the facility so residents are properly disposing of cleaning supplies and batteries rather than tossing them in the garbage. The new facility is located in an area zoned for light industrial use, and up to 100 possible locations were eliminated for one reason or another. It’s slated to open this month, although officials did not provide an exact date.

“There is no perfect site for this. I will fully acknowledge that,” said Fresno County Supervisor Brian Pacheco, who represents the area where the new facility is being constructed. “There is no perfect site, but it’s one of those necessary evils where we need to find a location that is already zoned for that, it’s most convenient for the public, and where is that location?”

Some residents worry about accidental spills and the amount of traffic the new facility will attract. Advocates said they didn’t know about the project until they read about it in The Bee.

“It would be nice if they would just literally go beyond and just reach out to the people who have to live in the area,” said Debbie Darden, co-chair of the Golden Westside Planning Committee. “Give notification, host a town hall meeting to ask what we think of this. Once again, we have a history of these things polluting our air.”

THE FACILITY

The facility is called the Regional Environmental Compliance Center. The new location will include an office, classroom, sanitary facilities, warehouse, collection structure and hazardous materials storage containers.

The facility will accept items such as bleach, ammonia, detergent, paint, used motor oil, batteries, and antifreeze in order to remove them from the traditional waste stream. Such items can no longer be disposed of at landfills and require special handling, according to county planning documents.

“We’re trying to provide a safe, convenient place to dispose of these common items found in everyone’s homes,” Pacheco said.

After some delays due to building material supply issues, construction of the new site is expected to be complete this month.

For 15 years, residents had to drive out to the American Avenue landfill if they wanted to responsibly dispose of household waste. The landfill needs more room, so the waste facility is being closed. Pacheco said the waste facility on American Avenue was supposed to be temporary.

Amina Flores Becker, resource division manager for Fresno County Public Works and Planning Department, said it was difficult to find a suitable location.

“This one was ideal because it’s in an industrial area,” she said. “In other areas, there was issues with proximity to schools or proximity to residential areas, or it just would not have been any more convenient to residents. I just think it was the right time and the right place and worked out.”

County planning documents from 2019 noted the American Avenue facility operated without any accidents for four years.

The facility operates more as a temporary storage area anyway, Flores Becker said. After 30 days, a contractor safely removes the material and transports the waste to another facility outside of Fresno

“Residents were using it, but we’re definitely hoping that the convenience of the planned location boosts participation. That is definitely a goal,” Flores Becker said. “We expect and hope to see much higher use of the facility than than we were seeing before.”

County staff reported in planning documents that 1,732 residents used the American Ave. facility in 2017. Staff projected use of the new facility would rise to 5,000 people by 2025.

OBSTACLES TO APPROVAL

The project was unanimously approved by the Fresno County Board of Supervisors in October 2019, but it faced many obstacles before that.

Pacheco said a committee including representatives of 15 cities in Fresno County assembled to pick a location. The committee considered up to 100 locations and settled on the 310 S. West Ave. location on the edge of the city of Fresno because it was zoned correctly and catered to the urban hub of the county, Pacheco said. The site was vacant, and the nearest home is about a half mile east of the property, according county planning documents.

After that, the county, with help from the Conservation Corps, went door-to-door to hand out fliers to neighbors and business owners announcing a community meeting, Pacheco said. County documents say notices were sent to 33 property owners within 1,320 feet of the site.

County documents show only one resident attended the meeting in May 2019. The meeting also was attended by a representative from the city of Fresno, two representatives from Fresno EOC Recycling who helped with the door-to-door campaign, a Mid Valley Waste employee, and county staff, who gave a presentation.

At least one business owner wrote to the Fresno County Planning Commission expressing “strong opposition” to the project. Bruno Dietl wrote in his letter that the facility was incompatible with the existing business park; would increase traffic; attract unhoused people; and cause property values to decline.

The Fresno County Planning Commission in August 2019 denied on a 7-2 vote a conditional use permit, finding that the project could affect neighboring properties.

The county’s Public Works and Planning Department appealed the planning commission vote, and the board of supervisors ultimately approved the permit and project.

Then-Fresno Mayor Lee Brand also wrote a letter in support of the project, saying it was badly needed in the community. Brand wrote the new site could also help resolve a problem with illegal household hazardous waste dumping along roadsides and in farm fields.

“The Environmental Compliance Center will be a great addition to our community and serve the needs of thousands of Fresno city and county residents both today and for decades into the future,” Brand wrote. “I urge the Board of Supervisors to approve this project.”

POLLUTION CONCERNS

Darden and her co-chair of the Golden Westside Planning Committee, Robert Mitchell for years have advocated for better land use policies in west Fresno neighborhoods. State data shows air quality and other pollution is worse in west Fresno, just one factor that contributes to Fresno’s infamous “Tale of Two Cities.”

In recent years, Fresno city officials have chased funding and solutions to bridge the divide between north and south Fresno, including state and federal infrastructure and greening dollars.

Meanwhile, the California Attorney General recently admonished Fresno County for its General Plan, which guides the county’s future land use, housing, and development decisions — saying the plan raises “civil rights and environmental justice concerns.”

Darden and Mitchell called on elected officials to make decisions that would benefit the community, rather than continue polluting it.

“It lets us know who they truly value, and those right there are not true leaders,” Darden said. “The sad part of it is that they are the reason why we continue to have the ‘Tale of Two Cities.’”

One city leader also said it was time for county officials to do their part in uplifting burdened communities.

“For the past four years, our city and state have invested nearly $200 million in building new amenities, including a college campus, parks, medical clinic and housing, that reverses the historic wrongs in west Fresno,” said Councilmember Miguel Arias. “It angers me that the county has taken the opposite approach by relocating environmental burdens like an animal shelter and toxic waste facility from wealthier and healthier areas into west Fresno while adding more liquor licenses to a community already saturated.

“It is time for our county to invest in amenities like safe routes to schools, a sheriff station and medical clinic in an area that has the lowest life expectancy in the county,” Arias said.

Reporter Monica Vaughan contributed to this story with support from USC Annenberg’s Center for Health Journalism 2022 California Impact Fund.

[This article was originally published by The Fresno Bee.]

Did you like this story? Your support means a lot! Your tax-deductible donation will advance our mission of supporting journalism as a catalyst for change.