The People vs Suprema
We won the battle but what about the war?
On December 18, 2019, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to uphold GGCA’s appeal of Suprema Meats’ Conditional Use Permit (CUP) and building permits. The ruling was a key victory for residents who have spent the last seven years opposing the permits that would essentially rewarded Suprema for flagrantly violating noise, building, and public safety codes.
Time to celebrate? Not so much once you consider that hundreds of neighbors have been forced to endure seven years of extreme noise and public safety hazards while the City coddled Suprema. Then consider the colossal costs: GGCA estimates the City’s doomed Suprema strategy cost Oakland taxpayers at least $30 million in staff time, legal expenses fighting three of Suprema lawsuits, contractor fees, and waived fines for the multimillion dollar company. All of which could have been avoided had the City heeded GGCA’s insights and warnings about the rogue company back in 2013.
City’s doomed Suprema strategy
The CUP and permits would have legalized the unpermitted structures Suprema Meat Co. (SMC) built in 2013 as a reward for SMC’s proposed “improvements” to allegedly reduce noise generation in the long term. To give neighbors respite in the meantime, SMC signed the 2014 Compliance Plan, an agreement to significantly reduce noise between 4-7 a.m.; big rig unloading on 57th Street; and truck traffic on residential streets. SMC proceeded to violate the Plan daily despite being slapped with numerous noise nuisance fines. Rather than comply, SMC spitefully used the appeals process to reduce some of the fines and just paid the rest. What’s a few thousand dollars to a company whose net worth is estimated at $50 million dollars?
Once fining proved ineffective, the City simply ignored all the ongoing, public outcries about extreme noise, big rig idling overnight, and harassment of female and immigrant neighbors. SMC owner Miguel Jara was even caught on video one of the times he used a forklift to move a neighbor’s car that was parked near his business. Code Enforcement also dropped the ball entirely on at least 30 code violations that its own inspectors issued to SMC since 2013 for unpermitted construction of freezer equipment, interior remodeling, and outdoor truck washing.
SMC flips off the city, the community, and the commission
Even with all the special treatment, SMC’s contempt for all three stakeholders was on full display at the Planning Commission hearing, which SMC’s owner didn’t bother to attend. SMC attorney Michael Hassing put in an appearance merely to inform the Commission that SMC had no intension of making any improvements because the City took too long to issue the permits. He also reminded the Commission that SMC’s suit to get out of the Compliance Plan was still pending.
The Commission was not entertained. Not only did it uphold GGCA’s appeal, it also recommended that the City revoke Suprema’s business license for being a “bad actor.” According the commissioners, if Suprema won’t play by Oakland’s business rules, it doesn’t deserve to be an Oakland business. Let’s see how much value the City puts on its own Commission’s advice.
Where to go now? Back to the future
With the CUP and building permits killed, the Compliance Plan is effectively dead as is any pretense of SMC’s “improvements.” This means that the City must now force SMC to do what GGCA demanded in 2013: Dismantle all its unpermitted construction, including the biggest external structures (16-foot metal canopy, the loading dock, and the 2,800 sq. foot elevated freezer unit).
Given the Commission’s ruling, Code Enforcement should have swiftly come down on SMC like a ton of bricks. Instead, it took a entire month to blow it again. On January 13, Code Enforcement Supervisor Tim Low issued a Notice of Violation (NOV) to SMC stating that SMC must dismantle all the unpermitted construction built since 2013. However, he failed to include either a compliance deadline or the consequences of noncompliance. The letter was almost identical to the ones his department issued in 2013 to 2015, all of which had zero impact.
We’ll keep you posted. Check back here for updates.
In the meantime, check out the video of the Planning Commission hearing. Must see: Hassings crazy comments and the Commissioners’ questions/recommendations.