Barron Park residents and officials at Communications and Power Industries (CPI) continue to clash over the company's safety record and its plating shop operations, but on Monday, June 4, the two sides found common ground on one issue -- a decision by Palo Alto officials to pursue an independent assessment of CPI's hazardous materials.
The company, which expanded the plating shop in 2006, prompted concern in the following two years after it accidentally discharged gas containing nitric acid and spilled wastewater containing copper and nickel into Matadero Creek. While CPI has maintained that its operations are completely safe and fully compliant with all federal, state and local regulations, residents have raised alarms about the hazardous materials at the plating shop near their backyards.
Many have called for the city to phase out CPI's operations. Palo Alto already commissioned an amortization study to assess a reasonable amount of time for CPI to recoup its investment in the plating shop before it could be asked to relocate. The 2006 study concluded that 20 years is a reasonable period (14 years, counting from today). CPI, which specializes in microwave and radio-frequency equipment, disputed this study and argued that it would have to relocate all of its operations, not just the plating shop, if the council were to pursue the amortization option. At an April 23 meeting, CPI officials indicated that they have no intention of closing or moving the shop.
The council had agreed at that meeting to pursue the independent study. On Monday night, they took the next step and approved 8-0 the funding for the study (with Mayor Yiaway Yeh absent).
The staff expects the consultant to take about 90 days to complete the analysis, which would then aid the council as it considers whether to ask CPI to phase out its plating-shop operations.
"The intent of the additional technical analysis is to assist the City to determine whether and to what extent it may be appropriate to modify the current Fire and Zoning codes in the interests of public health and safety and to evaluate how the findings of the technical analysis might affect amortization," a city report stated.
Both sides in the debate welcomed the new assessment. Art Lieberman, a Barron Park resident who has been critical of CPI, supported the city's "timely action" on the issue and urged the city to keep the process transparent and to communicate with residents about the progress.
Attorney Sandy Sloan, speaking on behalf of CPI, also said the company supports the staff proposal for a new study.
"CPI thinks it's essential that the city has accurate independent information in order to evaluate the plating shop," Sloan said.
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