Only days after Arturo Huerta drove away from a fraternity venue party while blacked-out drunk and was arrested for driving under the influence, he was perusing ZotLink, a UC Irvine-run webpage that connects students with potential employers. Desperately searching for a job that would help him pay off the sizable fines looming ahead, he stumbled upon a paid internship in the field of his major, public health. Sidera Incorporated: a Newport Beach-based environmental consulting company.
A 22-year-old senior at the time, Huerta knew he was a good applicant for the internship because he had over a year of experience identifying hazards for UC Irvine’s Environmental Health & Safety Department, where he would find and remove oils, rust and other hazards from UCI facilities.
“I really wanted to expand my career in the environmental field by using this internship as a stepping stone.”
Sidera Incorporated is to the EPA what H&R Block is to the IRS. Once a year, EPA environmentalists inspect industrial business facilities, looking for signs of pollutants that could enter storm drains and sewers. If a business fails inspection, which many do, they could face serious criminal charges. Those companies can hire Sidera to inspect their outdoor areas, identify the pollutants for removal and take samples of rainwater that has washed over their facilities, all before the EPA comes around. If a client complies with all of the EPA’s regulations on inspection day, Sidera has done its job.
Huerta employs a chemist and an engineer to handle much of the dry tasks. They posses a wealth of scientific knowledge that Huerta’s public health degree did not cover. Huerta sees the bigger picture and handles the business side of the company.
“I am the strategic planner for the company. What are we going to be doing in a year, five years from now? That’s my job. I handle our audits, our insurance, our licenses. I make sure our workers and bills get paid, I make sure our clients pay us.”
As Huerta drives his 1993 Toyota Camry from UC Irvine down to his Newport office, he explains Sidera’s niche in the Southern California economy.
“We, as a society, use hazardous chemicals or chemicals that can become hazardous for everything. These chemicals get all over our outdoor areas and if no one cleans it up, when it rains, where is it going? To the creeks, the rivers and eventually the ocean.”
Huerta’s job is to make sure the outdoor facilities of his clients’ businesses are pollutant-free.
“Once a year, EPA inspectors look around a business’s outdoor areas and make sure there’s not a bunch of crap out there. Rust, oil, dirt, chemicals … and they can take them to court for anything that poses an environmental threat … Sometimes we do that for these facilities and then later when it rains, we physically go out to these companies to take a water sample and send it to the EPA. ‘Hey EPA, this company is not polluting! Look at how clear their water is. Crystal clear.’”
As he drives from Jamboree onto Pacific Coast Highway, passing the yachts of Balboa on the left and sports car dealerships on the right, Huerta pulls into the parking lot of his office building. Sitting up against the blue of Newport harbor, its flashy architecture and neon light strips make it look like a massive cruise ship. Once inside, Huerta passes the offices of a pro sports agent and a realtor group. Farther down the hall lies Sidera Incorporated. Huerta sits down to explain his role in the company.
The federal regulations that created Sidera’s economical niche were born with the Clean Water Act of 1972. According to the bill, polluting is a criminal activity; a misdemeanor with jail time. Businesses can face serious consequences if they mess up. Many of them do.
“Businesses will call my company and say ‘We thought we knew what we were doing, we messed up two years in a row. Environmental inspectors are on our ass. They’re asking us for all these things we don’t know. Can you guys help us?’ And we go see their facilities and programs, talk to them about what they do, and then we send them a price. If they like the price, we go do dry tasks to make sure the rain samples will be clean.”
Legally, Huerta was not the rightful heir to Sidera Incorporated. Katharine Katura, the original founder of the company, passed away before she had the chance to change the will; a will that would make Huerta the new owner. The lawyer, who by default now represented Katura’s mother, wanted to make the most money out of Katura’s passing by dismantling her brainchild. Katura’s mother decided to honor her daughter’s wishes and leave Sidera with Huerta.
Both sides agreed on a deal where Huerta would pay Katura’s mother all the money that Sidera was owed by clients before Katura passed away. In return Huerta would own the company.
“I got my own lawyer and he didn’t even like the deal. He said I might get sued because we couldn’t find the documents showing that Katura owned the company. He feared someone would come forward with the documents, and try to take ownership from me.”
Katura never even had the documents made. In fact, during the last three years of her life when she was in Latin America, the company’s organization went kaput. Sidera was behind on its bills and projects, checks would get lost and clients would complain. That dysfunction is a big reason why Katura put so much responsibility on Huerta, who began turning the company around when he started managing in March. Even though his lawyer called it a big risk, Huerta knew what he wanted.
“All I have is a car worth $1500. I’m single, I just graduated college and this is the only opportunity I have to run a business and be my own boss.”
On Oct. 1 last year, Arturo Huerta became the owner of Sidera Incorporated at 23-years-old.
Huerta made his final payment to Katura’s mother in February 2015. He now looks to his future, and that of Sidera Incorporated. After all, the two are interdependent. He sees both expanding. He sees Sidera doubling its clientele and adding an office in the San Francisco skyline.
“If I didn’t come to this company, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be here today.”