Fresno city officials are denying Universal Meditech Inc.’s proposal to move near the Fresno Yosemite International Airport.
GV Wire exclusively reported on the company’s attempted move on Wednesday
A timeline of the company’s dealings with the city of Fresno shows inspections on the lab were “scaled back” from 2020 through 2022 because of COVID-19.
During that time frame, a fire took place at the company’s building at 1320 E. Fortune Avenue in south central Fresno. In addition, GV Wire has been told that hazardous conditions were evident throughout the bio lab.
The city told GV Wire on Thursday that a public records request must be filed for answers on whether any inspections were done during that time.
Universal Meditech is a pregnancy test and COVID test manufacturer based in Fresno. Its biological materials, disease samples, and 1,000 lab mice were taken over by Prestige Biotech, one of UMI’s creditors. Those materials were later discovered illegally stored in a Reedley lab.
After disputes with its landlord at North Pointe Business Park, UMI began looking for a new location. A 17,000-square-foot warehouse was built at 3900 N. Blattella Lane, where the company applied for tenancy. UMI submitted two operational statements to the city seeking authorization to move into the new building.
The second request, made June 20, came after the Centers for Disease Control, the FBI, the California Department of Public Health, and other state and local agencies had shut down the Reedley facility and were demanding answers about the biological hazards stored there.
“This letter is to inform you that without owner authorization, list of hazardous materials, and appropriate local, state, and/or federal regulatory agency hazardous material handling permits, this revised and incomplete operational statement cannot be evaluated. Therefore, the change in operational statement will not be approved,” the city told Universal Meditech and the building’s owner in a letter.
Universal Meditech Operations Unclear, Unfit for Area
Jennifer Clark, director of the Planning and Development Department wrote Wednesday that the diagnostic work proposed by UMI falls outside the permitted zoning for the industrial area near the airport.
While manufacturing pregnancy and COVID tests would have been allowed under “General Industrial” use, on-site diagnostic medical office uses are not permitted.
Reedley City Manager Nicole Zieba said Universal Meditech sought to do medical and drug testing at its previous facility. A public records request has been made for the operational statement submitted to the Fresno Planning and Development Department.
The operational statement from UMI references a Large Quantity Medical Waste Generator Certificate issued by CDPH that was effective until July 15, 2023. Clark also said that without a list of hazardous materials, it’s unclear whether the company qualified for permitted uses within the industrial zone.
A response from CDPH said that UMI’s medical device manufacturing license expired in September 2022.
When asked if UMI could move in if it met the city’s conditions, Janz said he would not “engage in speculation on behalf of the City.”
“If they can’t meet the conditions for occupancy now, what makes you think they can later?” Janz said.
City’s Timeline of UMI Operations Say Inspections ‘Scaled Back’
A release of UMI’s business dealings shows inspections at the company limited by COVID-19.
- Aug. 14, 2018 — UMI relocates from Tulare. The company originally focused on diagnostic test kits for dairy cattle, according to the Visalia Times Delta. Tulare County Department of Environmental Health permits medical waste disposal, including human and animal waste. However, the department had no record of the company.
- Aug. 26, 2020 — A fire is reported at 1320 E. Fortune Ave., No. 102, in Fresno, UMI’s manufacturing facility. The Fresno Fire Department traced the origin of the Aug. 26, 2020, fire to a workplace. A manager reported to KSEE 24 it was probably electrical. A request for a copy of the incident report has not been supplied by the city to GV Wire.
- Sept. 8, 2020 — Fire damage report completed by the city of Fresno.
- 2020 to 2022 — City inspections were “scaled back” due to COVID-19 pandemic. A request to define “scaled back” was not answered by city officials. Multiple sources who toured the building said they saw hazardous conditions there. Materials were dangerously kept, including what appeared to the observers to be biological materials.
- Nov. 2022 — “Various inspections” take place, including by Fresno County Environmental Health. According to the city, Xiaoxiao Wang, CEO of UMI, told inspectors about alleged problems with the landlord.
- Dec. 27, 2022 — UMI moves out. “The case was closed,” said the city.