Runkle Park – Build it and they will bum

Build it and they will bumJust who is in charge of Runkle Canyon? “The Good Reverend John” Southwick had the same question when he saw a July 16 Ventura County Star article about the Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District, which is looking at a $1.5 million shortfall in its upcoming budget yet plans to drop $1.5 million on a “Runkle Park” for, that as the article says, “improvements, to start in 2010-11 that would include a basketball court, restrooms, trailhead parking, picnic facilities and walkways.” The exact location of the park is not known.

These Runkle Park plans were news to Reverend John and the rest of the Radiation Rangers, a citizens group formed in 2006 to fight a 461-home development in Runkle Canyon by KB Home/Lennar in the shadow of the nuclear area of the Boeing-owned Santa Susana Field Laboratory, home to the worst nuclear reactor meltdown in the nation’s history fifty years ago from July 13-26, 1959. Runkle Canyon’s soil has tested high for the radionuclides strontium-90 and cesium-137, as well as the heavy metals arsenic, nickel, vanadium, chromium, barium and cadmium. Runkle Creek has also tested high for some of these heavy metals.

The revelations of pollution in the canyon, possibly a result of decades of nuclear and rocketry work at the old Rocketdyne lab which has an 11-acre drainage into the canyon, is one of the reasons that the developer signed a voluntary cleanup agreement with the Department of Toxic Substances Control on April 14, 2008. As part of that agreement, DTSC has instructed KB Home to remove some of these contaminants from the canyon:

“Tar material encountered at the site poses a potential threat to human health because benzo(a)anthracene concentrations exceed the [Preliminary Remediation Goal],” wrote DTSC to the developer. “The tar material should be removed from the site and either properly recycled or disposed.”

In part of its response to this direction, KB Home’s 37-page Response Plan says, “Other areas of the channel walls within the vicinity of the seeps have been reported to contain similar material,” but assures that “Development plans for the Site include the mass grading and removal of the aggregate piles in the ‘Fish Tail’ area. If additional tar material is discovered during future grading activities it will be managed appropriately.”

So how can the Simi Valley Rec and Parks drop $1.5 million that it doesn’t have in Runkle Canyon before the cleanup has even begun, a cleanup that would involve massive grading and hauling of toxic debris away? This is what was on Southwick’s mind when he went to address the Simi Valley City Council last week. He shared his written comments with EnviroReporter.com:

“Now this is news to us. Just where are these facilities to be built? There are no plans that we are aware. There are no plans for this in KB Home’s Runkle Canyon EIR. Would these facilities be way up in the canyon or down by Sequioa or somewhere in between? Do you folks know?

And do you folks remember that KB Home has a cleanup agreement with the Department of Toxic Substances Control where DTSC has ordered KB Home to remove a toxic tar called “benzo(a)anthracene” from the site? This is the same gunk we all saw when I guided you up Runkle Canyon to take samples two summers ago.

Are you aware that KB Home has told DTSC that it plans to “mass grade” away the two mountainous slag piles, over 100 feet high — that’s over 10 stories high of this rubble — to get rid of this toxic tar?

Now common sense says you don’t build a park where there is going to be clean up demolition and removal like this, whether KB Home gets to build its houses or not. This clean up is being ordered by Norm Riley and his toxics department and KB says it will take down those slag heaps.

So save yourselves, and us residents, the $1.5 million before you go build a park on land still waiting to be cleaned up.”

Southwick said it appeared that this was the first that council members had heard of this park plan. Mayor Paul Miller made it clear that it was not their bailiwick as the Rec department is separate from the city. End of story, for the city council that is.

Fair enough. But their response suggests that this council, and mayor, may not be up to speed when it comes to who is actually in charge of Runkle Canyon – they are. In 2006, the city took the unprecedented step of annexing the pristine (save for all the contamination) 1,595-acre canyon so it’s now in city limits meaning the council is ultimately responsible for this property that KB Home/Lennar bought for around $38 million and from which they are hoping to make much more.

And, say the Radiation Rangers, if Rec and Park and/or the city council, allow a park to open in this yet-to-be-built-in canyon before the state-identified pollution is removed and remediated, then the city will expose itself to future lawsuits from people who visit this “park” and manage to get that tar-like benzo(a)anthracene on them, a nasty substance that is suspected of causing cancer in animals and humans. And the city’s taxpayers, including Southwick and the Radiation Rangers, will have to foot that bill. Bottom line – if Runkle Park is built, many people will bum.

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  1. Great job Michael.
    I will not be visiting this park!

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