Founded by professional rally driver and Long Beach native Ken Block, the automotive lifestyle brand has exploded in popularity in recent years, with more than 2.3 million followers on YouTube and a new series on Amazon Prime called The Gymkhana Files.
But it wasn’t very popular with neighbors near the “Donut Garage” headquarters at the corner of Shoreline Drive and Seventh Street, just across the street from Edison Elementary School.
“To say that they started out a little rocky is putting it lightly,” said Jennifer Sersion, with the Willmore City Heritage Association. “They started out as a horrible business. They put out a lot of smoke and did burnouts and a lot of hazardous things.”
In many of their YouTube videos, smoke can be seen billowing from the parking lot in their Long Beach headquarters as they burn rubber on various vehicles.
In one video with nearly six million views, the group tests a Ford F1 truck called “Old Smokey” customized with a turbocharged 1200 horsepower engine. Thick black smoke wafts from the yard as children play outside at Edison Elementary.
“The poor kids. Sorry guys!” one man says, yelling over the fence.
Neighbors accused Hoonigan of pouring bleach on tires to maximize the smoke effect. They called police for the noise and complained to the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
“We smelled rubber in our neighborhood every week,” said nearby resident Michael LaPoint.
Representatives form Hoonigan said there was confusion in the beginning because the company had a filming permit from the city and was working with city staff to meet the conditions of the permit.
Hoonigan has since become a better neighbor, working with the school and doing community outreach, said Co-CEO Alastair Binks. The company has stopped filming burnouts and other loud activities in Long Beach and hasn’t had any noise or odor complaints since July, he said.
“We know we have a lot more work to do with the community,” he said.
The city has also recognized Hoonigan as a better neighbor.
On Thursday, the city Planning Commission approved an administrative use permit for minor auto repairs at the location. The permit means Hoonigan can work on cars for filming purposes but will be strictly limited on noise and pollution.
Long Beach lawyer Doug Otto, who represented Hoonigan, said the location will mostly be used as a headquarters for the company’s popular apparel brand. Hoonigan also has a racing division based in Utah.
Neighbors who spoke at the planning commission meeting said the company has been better and has been helping the community. A representative from the YMCA of Greater Long Beach said Hoonigan generated more than a thousand toys for the Christmas toy drive this year.
Darron Evans, the new principal at Edison this year, said Hoonigan has reached out to offer support for the children.
“So far they’ve been great neighbors and I believe they’ve learned from their mistakes,” he told the planning commission.
Sersion said the Willmore City Heritage Association has been working with Hoonigan and is OK with the company staying in Long Beach as long as it follows the rules.
“Our big concern is that they don’t do any stunts or filming to add to the loudness,” she said.