Multi-Agency public/private task force raids Oxnard toxic superfund site homeless encampment

By George Miller

Years ago, the Oxnard Halaco site at 6200 Perkins Road was used for recycling toxic metals. It is a designated superfund site and a blight on Oxnard’s long seacoast of sundrenched, wildlife-packed beaches. There is even talk of someday making this area part of a regional park which would also include the present site of the NRG power plant and nearby agricultural land and businesses. But it has also increasingly become one of the largest homeless encampments in the region.

At the Tuesday 10-17-17 City Council meeting, staff and the Police Dept. made a presentation on the status of both environmental remediation and the homeless situation. It is far worse than most feared, with crime and desperation of the Homeless at an all time high and some mediation efforts frustrated by non-responsive owners. We were told that the encampment has quadrupled in size. Robberies, assaults, harassment, even murder have occurred there. Already stretched thin police and fire resources have had dozens of calls for help this year at this site on the extreme edge of their coverage area.

Relevant meeting agenda section:

L. REPORTS
  City Manager Department
1. SUBJECT: Verbal Report on the Status of HALACO Site and Staff’s Efforts to Mitigate Problems on the Site (10/10/20)
RECOMMENDATION: That City Council receive the report and provide comments on the current issues occurring at the HALACO site.
Legislative Body: CC Contact: Ruth Osuna Phone: 805-385-7478
 

The City and outside agencies had already decided to take strong measures to relieve some of the problems.

 

Today’s Oxnard Press release on Halaco site activities

News Release: Multi-agency “Notice to Vacate Halaco”
October 19, 2017

During the early morning hours of Thursday, October 19, the Halaco property at 6200 Perkins Road was the focus of a multi-agency effort to begin the process of vacating trespassers. The operation included social service workers to assist  Halaco’s inhabitants.

Row of tents at Halaco site (10/19/2017)

Led by the Oxnard Police Department, a number of agencies participated in the effort, including Ventura and Simi Valley Police Department’s homeless liaison officers, and California State Parole. Other City of Oxnard resources that were involved included: Code Compliance, Animal Safety, the City Attorney’s Office, and Public Works.

Several makeshift structures at the Halaco site (10/19/2017)

Twenty (20) social services workers from nine (9) support agencies participated in the effort, including:

  • Rescue Mission Alliance
  • Salvation Army
  • Project Understanding
  • Ventura County Behavioral Health
  • Saint Vincent de Paul
  • County Homeless Services
  • Community Action
  • Ventura County Public Health
  • Ventura County Ambulatory Care

The agencies converged upon the Halaco site in an attempt to contact inhabitants, and serve them with notice that they are trespassing. Eighty-five (85) persons were served notice  during this  morning’s  operation.  Sixty  (60)  of  the  eighty-five  were connected directly with a social services worker. All inhabitants are being directed to vacate the premises by December 5, 2017, or be subject to arrest.

Halaco inhabitant reads notice to vacate (10/19/2017)

During the course of  contacting  and  serving notice to the site’s  inhabitants, seventeen

  • persons were arrested for warrants. A stolen camper trailer was recovered behind a makeshift structure, complete with a garage that housed a pickup

Notices were posted in conspicuous places in both English and Spanish. Officers will make return visits before the December 5th deadline. Social services workers and assistance providers will continue to help inhabitants with their relocation or decision to accept appropriate services.

The Halaco population dramatically increased since this past summer, as did demands upon local public safety resources. During the course of the past several months, an estimated 120 squatters have set up camp at the site. The campsites are mainly on Halaco’s westernmost section, and there are several dozen noticeable makeshift structures. In addition to tents and hazardous structures, approximately fifty (50) cars, trucks, recreational vehicles, and trailers are on the site. Large piles of refuse, including human waste, have been growing on the site as well.

There were dozens of vehicles and makeshift structures at the Halaco site. This is at the east side of the former smelter site (10/19/2017)

Assistant Police Chief Jason Benites stated: “In addition to being a hazard to public health and the environment, Halaco has become a public safety hazard. The type of activity, as well as the amount of activity that has been occurring at the Halaco site has far surpassed a tipping point, and requires intervention by a number of stakeholders.”

At the Oxnard City Council Meeting on Tuesday, October 17, an update and overview of the Halaco situation was provided by Development Services Director Ashley  Golden and Assistant Police Chief Jason Benites. The report to the City Council included the following information:

Since the beginning of the year, the Oxnard Fire Department has responded to the Halaco site twenty-nine (29) times. Sixteen (16) of these responses involved medical assists, including three (3) overdoses, and four (4) responses related to assault/penetrating wounds/traumatic injury. Seven (7) responses by the Fire Department involved fires at the site, including an encampment  that  burned down.

The Halaco site has placed an increasing demand upon public safety resources, and has become one of the greatest “repeat call locations” in South Oxnard. During calendar year 2016, there were eighty-six (86) police-related incidents  that were directly attributable to the Halaco site. As of October 16, 2017, that number was eighty-seven (87). During the thirty day period prior to October 16, the following noteworthy events occurred at the site:

  • A carjacking with the use of a firearm (September 26)
  • A gang member was arrested for being in possession of a shotgun (October 6)
  • Three assaults (October 6, 11, and 13)
  • Seven (7) stolen vehicles were recovered (another stolen vehicle was recovered during this morning’s operation)

Officers recovering a stolen trailer at the east side of Halaco’s former smelter site (10/19/2017)

A homicide occurred immediately outside of the property on January 3, and is related to the site.

Assistant Chief Benites added: “These Police and Fire Department responses to Halaco are directly attributable to the actual site. However, there are many more reported incidents that have connection to the surrounding area.”

Residents and employees from nearby businesses and facilities have also repeatedly stated concerns about the Halaco site. These concerns are echoed by environmental advocates for the Ormond Beach Wetlands, a nature preserve which is adjacent to the site, and contains endangered and threatened species. Given the unsanitary conditions that exist, health concerns are also cited as something that need to be addressed.

Background on Halaco:

The site includes a portion of the Ormond Beach wetlands, one of the few remaining wetlands in the area and home to several endangered or threatened species.

The Halaco Engineering Company operated a secondary metal smelter at the site from 1965 to 2004, recycling aluminum, magnesium, zinc castings, cans, car parts,  and scrap metal. The site includes an 11-acre area containing the former smelter, and an adjacent 26-acre waste management area where wastes were deposited.

While it operated, Halaco produced a large quantity of hazardous waste (slag), containing residual metals from the smelting process. Approximately 700,000 cubic yards of waste were deposited in the waste management area, and an estimated 50,000 cubic yards are buried in the eastern side of the 11-acre area where the smelter operated. In 2007 the United States Environmental Protection Agency added Halaco to its Superfund “National Priorities List.”

Halaco’s smelter site, where the majority of the encampments exist, is currently owned by the Haack Family Trust. Another entity, Asset Resolution Management, LLC is currently leasing the smelter site. Halaco’s 26-acre slag heap portion is currently owned by Alpha and Omega Church, LLC.

Asset Resolution Management LLC has provided the City of Oxnard with “agent authorization” which provides it with authority enforce issues such as trespassing on the property.

 


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