CCFD Along With County Hazmat Inspectors Found “No Significant Violations”
By Marcus G. Tiggs
Special to the Observer
Unless one has been hiding under a rock over the last month, Culver City Ice Arena is still temporarily shut down or to the dismay of its thousands of fans, maybe permanently?
As of last week there was what appeared to be a city imposed gag-order for any official to comment on the negotiations between the city, the landowner and presumptive a new operator to lift the yellow tag on the building for the rink to re-open.
The official position of the city has been made clear that until the safety issues of the 52 year old facility are solved, it will not be reopening. City officials have consistently stated inspections revealed “serious and substantial dangerous conditions” on the property. All parties agree that repairs are needed, but the apparent departure is to what degree and extent before the rink can re-open.
The conclusions that may be drawn is the repairs the city wants will cost upward of tens of thousands of dollars, while the presumptive new operator and the landowner, acknowledging repairs are needed, they are not to the extent required by the city.
In public, counsel for the landowner and new operator has not been shy to express her frustrations with the city. In particular, one being that the city has not provided her with past Culver City Fire (“CCFD”) inspection documents pertaining to the Ice Arena.
So the Culver City Observer gave it a shot. We did not find it difficult to get the city to honor our request under the California Public Record Act. The city promptly provided the Observer with 10 years of inspection/compliance documents for Ice Arena. After pouring though over 400 sheets of paper (in what can be best described as in a disjunctive order), what came to light is the arena has been subject to “orders to comply” for various violations in the past.
Other than the Alliance Refrigeration Services report of February 13, 2014, none of the violations cited were anything in the nature signifying an imminent safety hazard from the refrigeration system and from what we could see, all past deficiencies cited were timely corrected by the arena operator.
Most of the inspections were made by CCFD (or hired contractors), with one notable exception in February 21, 2006, the LA County Fire Hazardous Materials Division inspected the arena, reporting–“No Significant Violations Observed.” The major inspection categories are: fire protection equipment, electrical, clearance and exists, hazardous conditions, and structural. The produced documents give a first-hand glimpse of the inspections requiring corrective action by the arena:
August 1990- non-display of emergency response NFPA Placards for Ammonia and LPG on front and rear of building
July 1996- fire extinguishers expired service dates; improper extension cord use; provide metal waste cans (haz. materials section).
July 1999- bushes around fire dept. connection needs to be cut back to 3’ clearance.
June 2002-citizen complaint that main entrance/exist on to ice is locked during public sessions-potential safety hazard.
July 2007- improper extension cord use (food service area, video machines).
October 2011- kitchen area-stove valves, grease catch repair/replace, flue cleaning.
January 2012- failure of five year sprinkler service maintenance inspection.
February 13, 2013-Alliance Industrial Refrigeration Services inspection (significant safety deficiencies)
Annually the Ice Arena is required to provide the CCFD with its Hazardous Material Disclosure Certifications, every five years a detailed fire safety inspection and other annual state/federal hazardous material reporting. Included in the disclosures is key personnel duty descriptions in case of an emergency, manufacturer equipment specifications, material safety data sheets and detailed information on the hazardous materials on the site (amounts, daily usage, and waste on the site). The reportable materials on the site includes, anhydrous ammonia, propane, calcium chloride, and capella oil.
In the summer of 2005 the city identified the Ice Arena as being required to participate in the California Accidental Release Prevention (CalARP) Program. This is because of anhydrous ammonia being on the site. According to the State of California Office of Emergency Service, the purpose of CalARP is prevent the accidental release of regulated substances, emergency planning, and community right-to-know.
The Ice Arena CalARP reports included in the produced documents described the rinks refrigeration process as one which, “uses ammonia to cool a calcium chloride solution that freezes water to form ice in an ice skating arena. Anhydrous ammonia is pumped through a compressor into a chiller that cools the ammonia.
The ammonia is pumped into a condenser where it cools the brine solution. The brine is pumped into the ice arena. The ammonia recirculates back to the chiller. Ammonia temperature in the chiller is maintained between 6-20 degrees.” The reports also provide emergency procedures should there be a release of anhydrous ammonia, mitigation measures and abatement of the hazard.
Some may question with the amount of required disclosures and annual inspections why now the city is considering the reopening of the rink as an imminent danger. The results of the latest independent safety inspection (February 28, 2014) to give what some are calling a final word on the what really needs to be done to allay the perceived safety issues has yet to be publicly announced.
If the final report validates the theory of an imminent danger, the question that comes to mind is with the voluminous compliance reports submitted to the city by the ice arena annually why wasn’t this caught years (or decades) ago in the annual inspections by CCFD (or the LA County Hazmat Division).
Marcus G. Tiggs is a 20 plus-year resident of Culver City, former competitive figure skater, practicing attorney and former Culver City Planning Commissioner.