A student walks down the street in Isla Vista holding a cup of beer and is stopped by an officer. He pleads a complete lack of knowledge of the open-container regulation, but is still slapped with a citation and fine. It seems that ignorance of the law is no excuse in I.V. unless, of course, you are a large property-management company removing asbestos in an apartment complex.
A Daily Nexus investigation revealed evidence that suggests KAMAP, which manages over 300 apartments in I.V., willfully and illegally removed asbestos from the Aladdin apartment complex’s parking garage during Spring Break 2000. Furthermore, Santa Barbara County’s environmental protection prosecutor, Allan Kaplan, appears to have completely disregarded significant aspects of the case and failed to prosecute KAMAP to the full extent of the law. Both KAMAP and the district attorney’s office thumbed their noses at environmental, health and air-quality standards. Yet, the case was settled out of court – KAMAP was fined $60,000 for negligence and ordered to pay $40,000 for further asbestos cleanup. Its punishment was a mere slap on the wrist for such a large company and violation.
The only response that KAMAP has to these allegations is its claim that it was unaware it was removing asbestos. This seems highly implausible. KAMAP purchased the apartment complex in April 1999; the county’s Air Pollution Control District (APCD) investigation contained a sworn statement from the former owner, who insisted he had fully informed the new KAMAP owner John Warkentin of the asbestos prior to purchase. So, who is lying?
KAMAP was fined a total of $100,000, but if the original asbestos cleanup had been done properly it would have cost around $120,000. The company actually made money on this deal. It seems that claiming complete ignorance is a wise business strategy. Too bad it jeopardized the health and safety of tenants and laborers. Ignorance seems to reek from every crevice in this most unfortunate debacle.
The KAMAP contractor Mike Pinter, with many years of experience working in Isla Vista, was blissfully unaware of the asbestos cleanup laws – required knowledge for anyone with a contractor’s license. It doesn’t seem like it should take an expert to be concerned about the appropriate removal of insulation material, considering the fact that I.V. is a town riddled with asbestos due to the large number of pre-1970s housing. Yet, this material was dry-scraped from walls, creating clouds of carcinogenic dust, then shoveled into 100 plastic garbage bags and dumped in KAMAP dumpsters around I.V.
Also blissfully unaware was Kaplan, who failed to subpoena key pre-purchased independent inspection reports from Santa Barbara Bank and Trust on the Aladdin complex. These reports may well have revealed Warkentin’s prior knowledge of asbestos contained within the building; however, they don’t seem to have whetted the interest of our local environmental-protection prosecutor. Kaplan primarily limited his investigation to interviews with the painters who worked on the project rather than the third-party inspection conducted before the violation occurred.
Dave Oldfield, the painter who tipped off the APCD, told investigators that Pinter did have prior knowledge of the asbestos. Since working on the KAMAP job, Oldfield claims to have experienced respiratory problems such as coughing up blood and tissue. Aladdin residents also complained of health problems that occurred during the construction work.
Although these may all seem compelling reasons for pursuing a vigorous investigation, the Santa Barbara County district attorney’s office conducted limited research on this case and charged KAMAP with "negligence," a lower level of legal culpability than "willful misconduct." The case was then settled out of court two weeks later. A willful misconduct charge would result in a fine over two times as high and a possible prison sentence for Pinter.
There is no doubt that KAMAP acted with total disregard for the safety and welfare of both its tenants and employees. It seems all too apparent that it had full and prior knowledge of asbestos in the complex’s parking garage. Furthermore, KAMAP made an irresponsible and dangerous decision about the manner by which the material would be removed and disposed of. This conduct is a slap in the face to Isla Vistans. Civil charges were settled out of court, but a criminal investigation is still an option. KAMAP and the Santa Barbara district attorney’s office must be held accountable for their respective acts of misconduct.