A process to phase out nearly 150 businesses on National City’s west side has pitted residents and business owners against each other.
Following six months of research, data collection and input from city staff, consultants, legal counsel, the public and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a ranking process was created to amortize businesses in the Old Town area due to health risks for neighborhood residents from toxic fumes.
A detailed report was released last week by city staff for the first time detailing the process of amortization.
At a packed National City City Council meeting Tuesday night, members of the public spoke on both sides of the issue, which represented the preliminary process to implement the phasing out of non-conforming uses in the city’s Westside Specific Plan area.
Proponents say the ranking process should be used to prioritize the worst offenders without delay, phasing out businesses closest to Kimball Elementary due to the health risks for children, which have caused headaches and asthma.
Eddie Perez, who works with youth at the Casa de Salud center in National City, asked the council to move forward with the process and not delay it.
“Since (the) 1940s residents of Old Town have lived with some non-conforming businesses,” Perez said. “Children have had to live in conditions like this —there are lots of people living next door to auto body shops. It’s time to let those youth live a normal life. It’s time to make this a healthy, living community.”
Carolina Martinez, policy advocate to the toxic-free neighborhood campaign with the Environmental Health Coalition, said despite challenges, the organization will work with the city on the process.
”We’re about creating a healthier place to live. The school is one of the most sensitive areas in the community. There are 37 surrounding businesses. It’s not a healthy place to be growing up in.”
Longtime National City business owner Mary Powell, who owns Puppet Safari, is ranked 19 on the list.
She said the amortization process punishes her for being next to a residence that was not built incorrectly.
“I bought my business in the ’80s. It was built in the ’40s. I bought it with the expectation that I could sell it when I retire.”
Gary Walton, who inherited Steve’s West Coast Automotive from his parents after they retired is number 2 on what he dubbed the “hit list” and said he’s never had a zoning infraction.
“I had it valued at $300,000 at the lowest part of the economic crisis,” he said. “Now it looks like it’s worthless.”
National City Planning and Development director Brad Raulston is the point of contact for a 30-day public review period that gives businesses a chance to formally submit any inaccuracies in the report, ending Aug. 23.
Following the 30-day period, staff will provide a report with results to the council in September.
“I don’t believe the intent is to eradicate all the businesses,” Raulston said. “This is one of the tools we need to use to improve conditions in that neighborhood.”
Raulston said the process would be a gradual one.
“The big X factor is what legal challenges would be brought forward and how they would be resolved and judged,” Raulston said.
The amortization ordinance was established in 2006. A total of 145 west side businesses will need to relocate to appropriate zone areas. The idea is to implement two or three businesses in the first round.
National City Mayor Ron Morrison said there would never be a perfect community for business or residential but the idea is to find a way to make it more compatible.
Councilwoman Alejandra Sotelo-Solis said like it or not, change is coming and businesses and residents need to work together.
“Amortization would improve the quality of life for everyone on the west side,” she said.
From October through December, staff will meet with affected business owners, confirm the criteria to make a recommendation and establish recommended reasonable amortization periods.