A rally at the Thornton Shopping Center showed the site continues to be a social and political lightning rod in south Thornton. The owner of the rundown site began cleaning up structural, aesthetic …
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A rally at the Thornton Shopping Center showed the site continues to be a social and political lightning rod in south Thornton.
The owner of the rundown site began cleaning up structural, aesthetic and chemical deficiencies after years of neglect. Some neighbors remain upset about the pace of cleanup and a seeming lack of accountability for property owner Jay Brown.
Signs at the April 3 rally read, “Hold slum lords accountable,” “No chemicals in our community,” “Clean it up now,” “Clean up our home” and “Environmental justice now.”
The event was organized by two local activist groups, the West Adams County Collective and Unify Thornton. Their list of grievances included accountability for owner Jay Brown – who escaped having to pay fines in January at a sentencing hearing for 76 city code violations — and the cleanup of asbestos and perchloroethylene (PERC), a dry-cleaning chemical.
Brown didn’t begin PERC remediation until after the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) sued him in Adams County district court, leading the judge to issue an injunction against him in December. The PERC seeped into the groundwater of areas surrounding the property, but there isn’t evidence it got into nearby waterways, such as the Clear Creek.
The PERC isn’t just a health hazard, it’s an issue of environmental justice, protesters said.
“Typically, and historically, communities of color have been targets of environmental hazards … When that happens, lawmakers and policymakers drag their feet in getting these communities cleaned up,” said Cristal Cisneros, a neighbor whose doctoral research at the University of Colorado Denver was on environmental racism and justice.
The rally also drew city council candidates Roberta Ayala for Ward 2 and Karen Bigelow for Ward 4. The shopping center is in Ward 1, but Ayala said she was there to protest, “the chemical spill and the environmental racism.”
“We got to a point where enough is enough,” Ayala added.
Bigelow agreed, saying the clean-up “has only come to a head recently and this should’ve been handled years ago.”
At a Thornton City Council meeting on April 13, Councilor Jacque Phillips, who represents Ward 1, addressed some of the concerns expressed at the rally. She said there will be updates on the shopping center every two weeks at city council planning sessions, an additional layer of communication to the city’s web page.
“I think it’s important for us to get that information to the community so that everybody understands that there’s actually a lot of work happening regarding Thornton Shopping Center,” Phillips said.
Brown is scheduled to appear before Municipal Judge Charles Rose on May 12 to give an update on efforts to address city code violations. If Rose determines Brown isn’t moving quickly enough, the judge might reconsider fines.
A CDPHE representative recently informed Brown he had until June 1 to clean up the PERC.
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