Residents of Palo Alto’s Barron Park have challenged the corporation Communication and Power Industries (CPI), stating that CPI’s consultant risk-assessment report, released Feb. 20, is a lacking, shallow overview of the company’s potentially hazardous operations. Residents have raised concerns about the operations having a detrimental effect on the environment.
Barron Park residents are hoping that by conducting a more thorough risk-assessment, CPI’s plating shop will have to move. The assessment, which is supposed to take place in the near future, will look at the condition of the factory with respect to seismic regulation, employee training, chemical containment, alarm systems and more.
CPI is a spin-off of the company Varian Associates, founded in 1948. It has been manufacturing products like microwave and radio frequency products for defense, the medical field, communication and other purposes. Residents are concerned about the metal plating part of the manufacturing process that takes place in their backyards since it is located on Hansen Way. Until 2004, the CPI plating shop was located in San Carlos, away from any homes or public land.
Since the company moved to Palo Alto in 2006 there has been a string of complaints, ranging from noise to life-threatening incidents, such as the 2006 nitric acid cloud released from the plating shop that made a worker on the roof of a home adjacent to the factory feel dizzy and almost fall off. This incident was the first to draw attention to the issue. “Only from that worker [did we realize the situation], otherwise this whole thing would have remained under wraps,” Barron Park resident Sue Benjamin said. “The incident opened our eyes. This is unreasonable land use.” In 2008, there were over 100 gallons of toxic waste spillage from the site. Some leaked into the company’s rear driveway and in another incident, into the Matadero creek.
Following the complaints, CPI announced in a report to the City Council that it made significant improvements in containment, alarms systems and emergency response systems and that it created a new evacuation plan. It has reduced its quantities of chemicals below the Title 19 levels, which state that a company with certain amounts of toxic chemicals must be 300 feet from residential areas. Barron Park residents report that CPI has reduced chemical quantities by increasing the amount of waste pickups.
In 2006, the City Council did authorize an amortization study to assess how much time the company needs to operate until they can move without a negative effect on the company’s finances. The study concluded the company could afford relocating the plating shop in 20 years, 12 years from now. But according to City of Palo Alto Assistant Planner Aaron Aknin, CPI has said it cannot move for a considerable amount of time, in the 30-to-40-year range so the city will plan accordingly. “City staff will be making a recommendation to City Council that CPI’s activities on this site become ‘nonconforming’ from a land use/zoning standpoint,” Aknin said.