Karl Ory had no idea Chico Scrap Metal shuttered its operation on East 20th Street until his wife drove by recently and saw a sign. Figuring it was related to recycling, which the facility reduced in August, he didn’t think much of it at first blush. But the notice proved the culmination of more than a decade of advocacy by the former Chico mayor and others who coalesced into the community group Move the Junkyard.
Per the on-site signage and the business’ website, the location accepted its last scrap Feb. 28. Chico Scrap Metal (CSM) is planning to move to a new site in “an unincorporated area of south Chico” while, in the interim, handling materials at its Durham plant.
The closure comes as litigation continues (search for case 18CV03900 here), with CSM appealing a decision in Butte County Superior Court last fall—15 years after the city of Chico first ordered the facility to relocate from the spot it has sat since a city-facilitated move in 1983.
“I really had kind of given up hope,” Ory told the CN&R at a news conference Move the Junkyard called Monday morning (April 11) at CSM’s southwest gate, by the sign. “They’re in appellate court on the most recent litigation against the city … where Judge [Tamara] Mosbarger ruled in favor of the city. That was a big day for us. But then in the last couple months, I heard they filed the appeal, and I just thought it would drag on forever.
“But this is just great news, that we’re finally at this moment. I really hadn’t had any hope of them actually closing without a judge’s order to close—and they have. They’ve done the right thing, finally.”
CSM co-owner Kim Scott, who arrived after learning of the news conference from an employee, said the court order led to her family’s decision, for which they seek relocation assistance from the city. The Scotts contend that a city neighborhood plan pledges funding for CSM, but Mosbarger determined otherwise. Scott estimated the total expense of moving—including land, infrastructure and permits—at $4.5 million.
“It costs money to be in a legal battle, and we’re in the business of doing business,” Scott said. “So we wanted to go ahead and move forward.
“We still have some questions out there—i.e., is the city going to help us relocate, which so far they have reneged on,” she added. “But … we can’t just stand still and wait for the bottom to fall out completely, so we thought it was in our best interest as a business decision to go ahead and cease operations here.”
Scott said CSM is “trying to secure another location that’s close to the city.” The family has identified a site she declined to disclose because negotiations are ongoing. The Scotts intend to hold onto the parcel at 878 East 20th St. across from Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., she said, and may decide to develop it “unless somebody has a whole lot of money to offer.” They haven’t received a proposition—“there’s been no discussion whatsoever in regards to the future of this property,” Scott added.
Ory sees potential in the site. Whoever owns it can apply for government grants to clean up substances accumulated over 60 years of salvage (an auto wrecker preceded CSM). Both a commercial corridor and residences, such as the Habitat for Humanity homes next door, have grown in the neighborhood over the decades.
The battle has been personal for Ory, who got sued personally along with Move the Junkyard by the city and CSM—on the heels of Ory’s reelection to the City Council following a 31-year break. That 2017 suit, decided in his side’s favor, stemmed from a referendum drive and ultimately prompted council conservatives to reverse course on CSM.
“It’s hard to say it’s worth it when you still see the blight,” Ory told the CN&R. “But if we hadn’t done what we did five years ago and decide to seek a referendum, this [facility] would be operating still, on a windy day like this, airborne particulates [dispersing]. They’d probably be dismantling cars.
“It’s encouraging. I should just say, ‘I’m going to Disneyland!’ … What stands out is [conservative council members] doing the absolute wrong things and costing the city hundreds of thousands of dollars [in litigation] and missing the opportunity to force CSM [to move].”
Richard Harriman, an attorney who has represented Move the Junkyard, told the CN&R that “there were some very reasonable accommodations and compromises that could have been worked through” as the city negotiated with CSM pre-litigation. “It was really a failure of political will by the council, I think, that caused this to be a problem that’s gone on this long.”