Odor Problem Still a Contentious Issue in Race for District 1 Seat

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As Berkeley City Councilmember Linda Maio seeks re-election this year, three competitors say she has neglected to address odor emissions and health concerns at a West Berkeley steel plant which have plagued the community for years.

If elected this November, Anthony Di Donato, Jasper Kingeter and Merrilie Mitchell each hope to reduce odor complaints regarding the Pacific Steel Casting Company and better inform the community of the company's air emissions. All three said Maio has been ineffective in eliminating the odors.

The number of odor complaints from community members has decreased in recent years, though odors still linger within the surrounding neighborhood. The highest levels of complaints occurred between 1982 and 1984, 1989 and 1990 and 2005 and 2006, according to Lisa Fasano, spokesperson for the San Francisco-based Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which regulates the company's air emissions.

Maio said she intends to meet with the company monthly to continue working toward reducing odor emissions. She most recently met with the company Thursday, though meetings in recent years have been less frequent.

"I'm just determined to follow this," Maio said. "My main concern is that we investigate every complaint and find out what's wrong and fix it."

In February of 2008, the Berkeley City Council asked the district and company to create a plan to reduce odor emissions after Maio requested a use permit revocation process with the intent of drawing attention to the problem.

Elisabeth Jewel, spokesperson for the company, said Pacific Steel has spent millions of dollars over the last five years upgrading the plant and implementing the Odor Management Plan, which outlines steps the company has taken to reduce odor emission.

"Our goal is zero complaints and we're working hard to get there," she said.

She added that Maio and the company have been partners in reducing the odor complaints.

"She's very attentive and fair ... and we really have appreciated having somebody in that position who sits down with us regularly, listens to us and sincerely wants to improve the situation," Jewel said. "She wants to make sure that the company is always moving forward."

Though Jewel said the company has had a "productive dialogue" with Maio, her competitors said discussions between the city, the company and the district have not been transparent.

"It's a lot of behind the scenes," Di Donato said. "If your family was in danger, wouldn't you tell your family? ... Linda Maio doesn't look at this community as a family ... she looks at it like the less people know, the better it is for her and everybody else on City Council."

Kingeter said though he is unsure if the filters are working properly, odors emitted from the plants continue to linger in the neighborhood and that residents have lost faith in the complaint process.

"I know for a fact that the smell is still there," Kingeter said. "This is something I personally deal with and something my neighbors deal with."

While some say the odors will always exist, the implementation of carbon filters at the three plants has helped decrease the number of odor complaints over the last few years.

"Now that all three plants are controlled, we have had a downturn in complaints, but a lot of that is dependent on how much production they have," said Wayne Kino, air quality program manager in the compliance and enforcement division for the district.

He added that the district's complaint confirmation process is "very rigorous" and added that around 25 percent of the odor complaints are confirmed to the company. Other odors in the area have been traced to other facilities or homes, he said.

"Frankly, I don't think that there is anyone who is better versed with what's happening ... with Pacific Steel Casting than I am," Maio said. "We're not there yet ... hopefully at the end of this little rainbow there will be a win-win situation."


Stephanie Baer is the lead city government reporter. Contact her at [email protected]

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