The Irvine Planning Commission voted to postpone a decision on the Irvine Company’s request for more than 200 acres of land for new development in Orchard Hills, citing the continual complaints of odor from North Irvine residents, who have steadily brought forth concerns over the potentially harmful levels of toxic fumes emanating from the All American Asphalt facility. 

In a 3-2 vote on Thursday, Oct. 21, the Irvine Planning Commission opted to delay a decision to approve a resolution for the Vesting Tentative Tract Map 19020. The tract, in Orchard Hill’s Neighborhood 4, would allocate 250 acres of land for 500 new homes and include child care sites. Neighborhood 4 is located 0.66 miles from the All American Asphalt facility, according to the resolution. 

Commissioner Chair Jeff Pierson and Commissioner Stephen Huang voted against postponing the decision for further discussion. Pierson added that he would like to see the Master Plan come back in six months and take a vote then.  

During Thursday night’s meeting, city planning commissioners listened to more than two hours of public testimony from dozens of Irvine residents that continued to emphasize that the city of Irvine has not done enough to protect its citizens from what they say are toxic levels of emissions being emitted from the plant. 

However, studies performed by the city of Irvine and the South Coast Air Quality Management District indicate that levels do not exceed thresholds that pose a threat to public health. 

Residents say they want the facility shut down completely. Yet Pete Carmichael, Director of Community Development for the city of Irvine, advised the commission that the city of Irvine did not have jurisdiction in terms of controlling the land the facility operations on. 

“From a regulatory land use standpoint, so long as they’re operating consistently with those permits we don’t have the opportunity to shut down the plant,” Carmichael said.  

Prior to the vote, commissioners cited the concerns from Irvine residents regarding the All American Asphalt plant, adding that they could not approve a resolution due to the degree of conflicting data between what residents say are continual noxious odors, and reports from AQMD that state the opposite.

Commissioner Stephen Huang, who was appointed by Irvine Mayor Farrah Khan, said he hoped Senator Dave Min could assist with the residents’ concerns over the studies performed by AQMD. 

“We’re dealing with a difficult issue. Certainly, we want to take residents’ concerns into the calculation and formulation yet it seems we are contractually obligated now through state regulation that we are obliged to follow,” Huang said. “The residents’ dissatisfaction with AQMD should really be taken up with the state — I hope [Dave Min] can help us out in relaying the concern of the resident here in regard to American Asphalt.”

Commissioner Jong Limb, who was appointed by Irvine Vice Mayor Tammy Kim, proposed the motion that would carry the discussion to November 4, adding that he could not get behind approving the resolution knowing that so many residents were concerned about the potential toxicity of fumes being produced by the All American Asphalt plant. 

“My leanings frankly are to get more data, more information, to feel more comfortable with what it is we’re looking at because I don’t feel 100 percent comfortable that I’m on one side or the other at this point — I understand both sides, I’m trying to be fair about it,” Limb said. “For now, I think the best solution is to move the asphalt plant to somewhere else further away.” 

Orchard Hills resident Kim Konte is co-founder of Non-Toxic Neighborhoods. Konte said noxious fumes from the asphalt facility constantly impacts her children’s life.  

After the meeting Thursday, Konte said she was optimistic to see the testimony of Irvine residents make an impact on the majority of the Planning Commission.

“This is one small step in the right direction. Three commissioners understood the importance of hitting pause. This is about protecting kids from the largest single source polluter of known carcinogens in the city. We want the Irvine Company to be part of the solution,” she said. “Honestly, given the huge amount of influence that developers have across the Irvine City Council, we were holding onto the hope that common sense and compassion for human life would win over the desire for corporate profits.”