SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS
Auto dismantlers win reprieve to keep operating
By Thaai Walker, Mercury News
Though their days had seemed numbered, auto dismantlers who were told to shut down their East Palo Alto businesses two months ago won a reprieve this week after the city council voted to let them continue operations for the time being.
The council voted 4-1 Tuesday night to allow existing dismantlers to apply for special use permits. Those who are granted one will be able to continue breaking down old cars and hawking auto parts on a year-to-year basis.
The East Palo Alto dismantlers are among Iess than a handful left in San Mateo County. Late in December, the city ordered them to shut down as part of a plan put in place a decade ago to phase out the gritty businesses and redevelop the surrounding industrial neighborhood.
Though few in number, the auto dismantlers decided they weren't leaving without a fight. They persuaded dozens of supporters from around the Peninsula to tell city officials how necessary their services are.
In making its decision, the council seemed to be responding to not only community pressure but also the realities of uncertain economic times.
Some council members -- particularly new members -- said it was unfair to shutter the businesses because overhaul plans for the industrial area have been delayed by the poor economy.
"Until we actually break ground, I don't see a need to put people out of business," council member Donna Rutherford said.
Only existing, licensed dismantlers will be able to apply for the permit. When development plans do finally move forward, the dismantlers will have to go, officials say.
The original decision to phase out the dismantlers was based on concerns about the environmental impact of the oil, fluids and other hazardous materials that could be seeping into the ground beneath the wrecking yards.
Council member Duane Bay, who voted "no" on Tuesday, said he thought allowing them to remain would send a bad message to federal authorities who have given East Palo Alto millions of dollars in money and support services for the redevelopment and environmental cleanup of the area.
Even so, the council's decision made Infinity Salvage owner Mike Baker happy. "It means I get to go on I with my life and support my family," he said.
Contact Thaai Walker at email@example.com or (650) 688-7581.
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