U-Haul Illegal Asbestos Removal Lawsuit Settlement Requires Funding for Local Nonprofits

In late September of 2019, the building that formerly housed the Kmart and Chuck E. Cheese businesses on Santa Maria Way was being prepared by the new occupant, U-Haul of California.  Flooring tiles were being removed by workers, and a large dust cloud emerged as the work continued.  A concerned neighbor, noticing the dust, called Santa Barbara County to find out what was happening. Once inspectors from the County were allowed access, they determined that the dust, the tiles, and the adhesive were all positive for asbestos, and that U-Haul did not take necessary precautions to protect workers, employees, and the public from asbestos exposure.  They also disposed of the materials improperly, sending it to the Santa Maria Area Recycling Terminal, which is not a hazardous waste site.

U-Haul of California was sued by the County of Santa Barbara and ordered to pay for remediating the improper disposal, cleaning the dumpsters used, and incurred fines totaling $1,004,326.00 for damages to the public and costs to the County.  In addition, a Supplemental Environmental Project (SEP) assessment requires U-Haul of California to pay an additional $111,595 to four local nonprofit agencies to pursue public benefit environmental activities in the area.  

Friends of Waller Park, which is located close to the U-Haul facility, received part of the SEP funds. Juliann Hemphill, coordinator for the Friends of Waller Park said, “We are very sad that this incident occurred so close to homes in our neighborhood, mine included.  However, Friends of Waller Park is grateful to be awarded $22,000 to help with our mission to help maintain and enhance the beauty of Waller Park.”  

In addition, NatureTrack Foundation, Inc.  who provides fieldtrips to K-12 students in Santa Barbara County that include environmental education and experiences, will receive $40,000. Santa Barbara Foundation will receive $29,595 to provide grants to environmental and/or conservation projects to benefit Santa Maria and the surrounding communities.  An additional $20,000 will go to People for Leisure and Youth, Inc., (P.L.A.Y.) to help plant oak trees and restore 234 acres of parkland to provide a location for environmental education programming.

Juliann Hemphill reporting