Palo Alto to re-examine CPI's hazardous materials

City Council agrees to spend $35,000 on a new study evaluating company's plating shop and best practices relating to hazardous materials

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.

Speakers on both sides of the debate said Monday night they support a decision by the City Council to spend $35,000 on a consultant to study the operations of CPI's plating shop, which is located at 811 Hansen Way, immediately adjacent to several Barron Park residences.

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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Like this comment
Posted by Scott
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 5, 2012 at 6:31 pm

I have heard alot of talk about the fire department closing down the engine at the Hanover station which is the engine that is closest to CPI. Wondering what the effect would be in the study?

Like this comment
Posted by toxic chemicals
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 5, 2012 at 6:48 pm

The public has the right to know exactly what risks are involved in living near this company. How about just releasing the complete details and then let residents decide if they want to move away or not. The company should not be keeping secrets from the community about toxic chemicals. Neither should the city shouldn't nanny us when we can make our own informed decisions.

Like this comment
Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 6, 2012 at 9:40 am

Good point, Scott, and I am glad that you are tuned in to an important city-wide policy matter that has been flying swiftly under the radar.

Yes, Engine 2 (at Station 2 on Hanover Street) is the year-round first-response engine for all of Research Park below Foothill Expressway. Station 2 also houses the city's only Rescue vehicle (i.e., Rescue 2), which is involved in hazmat operations. The city recently said it could be another engine instead that is chosen for the possibly extensive brownout. A spillover effect at either place could also significantly impact availability of Rescue 2

The first-in engine for Baron Park itself is Engine 5 at Arastradero near El Camino

See my extensive discussion of the budget proposal for the fire department and impacts in a new Town Square post later today, and ask knowledgeable folks to add whatever they can related to the impact on hazmat operations.

The budget comes to the council on June 11 and 18, but there is also an update on the two city-contracted fire studies, the basis for the proposed cuts, scheduled for the Policy & Services Committee on Tuesday the 12th

Like this comment
Posted by ufo223
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Jun 6, 2012 at 3:26 pm

...oh well, its only another $35,000. Yet another outside consultant funded by city taxpayers. I guess if you hire enough outside consultants eventually maybe you will get at least one to support your theory or position. If not, just keep whining and the taxpayers will pony up the money just to quit listening to the complaining. So you bought a house next to an industrial site, lets all pay for your uninformed decision. We can no longer sustain the ballooning and skyrocketing ignorance of city officials who choose to fund the endless outside consultants and blue ribbon committees because city management and city council is not capable of making informed and educated decisions.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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