Eating Trammell Crow?

Atomics International Hot Lab in 1962 on the site now called Corporate Pointe at West Hills.

Atomics International Hot Lab in 1962 on the site now called Corporate Pointe at West Hills.

Today, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved developer Trammell Crow’s Corporate Pointe at West Hills zoning change, significantly reducing environmental protections at the polluted site, and not requiring an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the construction that Trammell Crow will soon begin there.

This approval comes despite widespread concern that the site’s soil and groundwater are contaminated with chemicals, heavy metals and radionuclides from years of use by Atomics International, Rocketdyne, Hughes Missile Systems and Raytheon. For the few neighbors who put in extraordinary efforts to fight this project, the dustup may now turn to fallout, literally.

What is striking, but not surprising, is that the council had no discussion and apparently little council staff expertise and input before making this decision. One surprise was the ‘yes’ vote of Councilmember Bill Rosendahl who left his sick-bed (recuperating from a hernia operation) to attend the meeting which then had a quorum. Rosendahl has been generally astute about environmental issues, and he certainly wasn’t alone in okaying this massive project with nary a question about it.

LA Weekly uncovered this issue in our March 5, 2009 article “The Valley’s Galaxy of Goo – City planners make a slick zone change for easy building on toxic lands.” The article states:

The land’s owner, Multi-Employer Property Trust, under Trammell Crow Co.’s management, wants to erect two office towers.

Klea discovered in 1995 that aerospace and nuclear-research activity had left a galaxy of goo on the land and in the groundwater, just two blocks from her home on Ponce Avenue in Canoga Park. “I did an FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] request to EPA and received thousands of pages of data on the old Hughes property, and I was shocked to see widespread chemical and radiological contamination in the soil and groundwater,” Klea told L.A.Weekly.

[and]

The state warns in its own January 30, 2008, report obtained by the Weekly that arsenic has impacted the sewer line “sitewide,” and the storm-sewer system has not been investigated. “Key points where runoff could carry contaminants and where leaks are more likely to occur may need to be tested,” it concedes.

[and]

But again, Klea notes, because of the formal zone change now approved by the Villaraigosa administration, the cleanup target required of Raytheon for getting rid of uranium-238, which has a half-life of 4.46 billion years, will be relaxed — by more than 32,378 times.

Did any of the councilmembers, or their staffs, read this report which was accompanied by extensive additional information? Maybe. But if they did, it sure didn’t seem to matter, says Bill Bowling of the Aerospace Cancer Museum of Education located in Chatsworth-Lake Manor. Bowling spoke with Phyllis Winger, Chief Planning Deputy for Councilmember Greig Smith in whose district Corporate Pointe at West Hills is located.

“Councilmember Smith feels that if the property was unsafe that the [Department of Toxic Substances Control] would have told him so,” Winger said to Bowling after the vote.

Bowling immediately jotted down the quote and called EnviroReporter.com. We called Smith’s office to confirm the quote but received no callback before posting.

Bowling has expressed deep concern about the untested sewer lines that run under the Trammell Crow property and lead straight to one of the upper reaches of the Los Angeles River. In the process, Corporate Pointe’s effluent runs off under the district of Councilmember Dennis Zine.

“Determining whether or not this land is contaminated is up to the environmental scientists who are experts in contamination issues,” wrote Jonathan Brand, Zine’s Chief Planning Deputy, in an April 8 e-mail to EnviroReporter.com.”

“All the proper environmental tests must be done at this site before any construction begins. As with all projects, if contamination is found, the contaminants must be properly mitigated. Nothing will get built without the proper clean-up. New construction that will result in contaminated run-off will not be allowed or tolerated.”

Any mechanism to not allow contaminated run-off from the site went down the drain with today’s council vote. The property will not need an EIR which would have, among many other things, determined the condition of the sewer system under Corporate Pointe at West Hills.

This especially troubles Bowling and his museum partner, Christina Walsh, both of whom submitted extensive comments to the city about the Corporate Pointe at West Hills contamination issue. Bowling says the property was heavily damaged by the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, magnitude 6.7, the epicenter of which is six miles from the property.

By way of evidence, Bowling sent us an October 8, 1998 Los Angeles Times article which said that Boeing had planned to move 500 of its employees to the newly-leased site. The article reported that former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan assisted Boeing in the leasing deal by helping “secure a favorable price on the earthquake-damaged buildings that Hughes had left behind.”

“This is very troubling as the [Areas of Concern] identified on this site are SEWERLINES that could be earthquake damaged with the potential impact of past activities of TRW, Hughes Missiles Systems and Atomics International who once occupied Corporate Pointe at West Hills,” Bowling wrote in an e-mail today.

“We must not forget the TCE plume that is on the North West side of the property near Hidden Lake. Wherever you believe the plume originated, SSFL or Corporate Pointe, the fact is it’s there and from the Vapor Intrusion seminar that Ms. Walsh and I attended in Sacramento we learned the Vapors of TCE can travel outward.

“There is also the controversy over the dewatering through the vegetation and if the water is treated or not. One thing for certain, a lot of water leaves that site. On the hottest days of summer the streets in front of Corporate Pointe are flooded.”

That water is headed towards the Los Angeles River, where Mayor Villaraigosa and the Los Angeles City Council plan to spend $2 billion to ‘restore’ the river for, among other things, people to use for swimming and fishing.

Today’s council vote means that there is no requirement to test those sewer lines and what’s running off of the site as it flows towards the river despite ample evidence of contamination, including Corporate Pointe maps, documents and photographs on EnviroReporter.com.

Will the mayor and city council simply sign away pollution problems along the LA River like they have at Corporate Pointe at West Hills? Will other aerospace facilities polluting the river mean anything to city government as it drop billions on rejuvenating the waterway? Does city staff have the wherewithal to understand the science of the pollution that threatens this very expensive plan that could, inadvertently, expose Los Angelenos to all manner of hazardous goo?

Today’s vote says no. The irony of Rosendahl, one of the most liberal and environmentally-progressive members of the council, leaving his sick bed to make this vote possible, is hard to overlook. It was Rosendahl, after all, who negotiated with the Veterans Administration to make them undertake a $1 million excavation of the Brentwood biomedical nuclear and chemical dump EnviroReporter.com exposed on VA property.

That was two years ago, next month, and nothing has happened at the VA, not a shovel-full of dirt turned to find the radioactive and chemical waste. But we have continued an intensive investigation of the VA property. Our upcoming findings are unsettling, to say the least.

Considering the council actions of today, and the money that has been and will be spent on the river, we expect a long, hot summer of reporting here at EnviroReporter.com.

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  1. Margery Brown says:

    This council approval certainly sounds like a done deal before anyone even walked into the council chambers. It was already decided upon, further soil and sewer testing notwithstanding. The frustration of hearing about this is almost unbearable! Just how can a body that is supposed to protect citizens, simply ride roughshod over such critical issues as possible contamination, that we know is making so many residents surrounding Corporate Pointe drastically and/or terminally ill. Oh well,they are apparently just COLLATERAL DAMAGE.

    Someone please,someone tell me that it is not MONEY that shouts so loudly. The environmental activists don’t really have any funding behind them, so that just leaves the big corporation, Trammel Crowe, and their giant sized landlord to jingle the coins.

    I do not understand, much less accept, how a city council can just approve a project the size of Corporate Pointe, but just casually disregard the well documented need for an EIR. Even though a few concessions were obtained by the activists, this one was THE biggy!

    There is something really corrupt feeling about all of this. If nothing else, the City Council decision appears to be morally corrupt.

    I must admit fighting a feeling of despair at this moment. Environmental activists are always seemingly up against large corporations with huge amounts of money at their disposal. We are always fighting with a toothpick and they are fighting with a 6 foot-steel club. To make matters worse, there is usually always politics involved in any kind of decision making, and this is like trying to squeeze a bowl of jello….you just can’t get a hold of it.

    At least we all have a reason to be grateful that Michael Collins has the courage to expose all the insanity involved, and tell it like it is. He absolutely deserves our gratitude and thanks.

  2. Joan Bien says:

    Must I state the obvious? You can’t say something is safe, especially the site of aerospace industry, unless you check it out.

    Wake up folks! The Cold War is over. Using that lame excuse to explain away how it was acceptable for the defense industry to pollute with abandon is no longer legitimate and, by the way, I never much liked the condescending tone of those using that excuse. Let’s all face the facts that we have been left with a legacy of witch’s brew from California’s long-gone glory days. The aerospace industry may have once provided the magical illusion that the state was recession-proof, but now they have left the building and have no intention of cleaning up their own mess. We can’t just squeeze our eyes shut and wish really, really hard that the poisons will disappear. Instead, more people may get hideously ill and once the toxins are actually identified, it will cost more money than Cheney has to clean it up. Or, we can continue the half-century tradition of the old Atomics International site at SSFL and just argue about it indefinitely. At least, nothing has been built there….yet.

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