[KB Home’s Runkle Canyon development is now called Arroyo Vista at the Woodlands]
EnviroReporter.com – September 15, 2009
Recently replaced Department of Toxic Substances Control project manager for the multi-million dollar cleanups of the Boeing’s Santa Susana Field Laboratory and KB Home’s Runkle Canyon property, Norman E. Riley, sent a scathing letter to EnviroReporter.com Sunday afternoon disparaging his former employer and claiming that he has more incriminating revelations yet to come.
Riley’s wrath was in response to an e-mail of mine surreptitiously sent to him by Rocketdyne activist Christina Walsh, who helps run the Aerospace Cancer Museum of Education in Chatsworth-Lake Manor. Riley removed her response to the e-mail (which she declared “off the record”) and forwarded my original message with his comments to nine other individuals including Walsh and her museum partner, Bill Bowling, three KB Home officials, and Simi Valley City Manager Mike Sedell.
Riley also copied Preston Brooks, a partner with the law firm of Cox, Castle & Nicholson in Los Angeles, one of the largest real estate developer law firms in the country. The company’s website states that “Mr. Brooks counsels property owners, developers, lenders, municipalities, and pension funds on environmental risk management strategies in the context of real estate acquisition, financing and development.” The online bio also states, “In addition, Mr. Brooks represents clients engaged in the redevelopment of brownfields. He has represented purchasers of contaminated properties in negotiations with governmental agencies to minimize environmental liabilities, using procedures available under the California Land Reuse and Revitalization Act, the Polanco Act, and the Brownfields Revitalization and Environmental Restoration Act. Mr. Brooks also frequently assists clients to obtain and tailor environmental insurance policies to address environmental issues associated with real property.”
Riley’s motivation for copying a real-estate environmental attorney is unclear and it is not currently known whether Brooks represents Riley, KB Home, both entities or neither of them.
Riley also copied the missive to the Secretary of Cal-EPA, Linda Adams, and the acting director of DTSC, Maziar Movassaghi, who announced Riley’s departure as we reported in “Coup de Goo” August 19.
Riley began his unsolicited message with the audacity to refer to my private e-mail to Ms. Walsh as “misleading and self-serving.” He went on to explain his statements in a recent Miller-McCune article with a bizarre analogy about the difference between “having ass” and being an “ass.”
Riley then reveals that his authority in Runkle Canyon and at SSFL was terminated over five months ago:
[W]ith regard to the decision making at SSFL and the surrounding sites, Mr. Movassaghi withdrew my decision making authority in a memo dated April 8, 2009 and reserved all such decision-making authority for himself. When asked by members of the public about the status of the Runkle Canyon decision afterward, I consistently said that no decision had been made. That much was true: it was not a lie.
It’s not difficult to understand how one could be confused about Riley’s authority. In a July 13 interview with Joan Trossman Bien that we reported in “Not the Norm,” Bien asked the then official SSFL and Runkle Canyon cleanup chief who made the final cleanup decision. “DTSC,” Riley answered. “That is my department.”
According to Riley, it was getting more difficult for him not to tell the truth:
I will readily admit that it was becoming harder and harder for me to give the same response time after time without revealing the true nature of the delay. When I said that we are reviewing all of the comments and being thorough in our consideration of those comments, that was true too, but the fact of the matter is that we had completed that work long ago.
Riley, who had been with DTSC for 25 years until retiring September 3 (after being removed from his post), according to Ms. Walsh, then delivered this stunning tirade:
Unfortunately, that is the nature of being a subordinate who serves at the pleasure of appointing powers in an organization where obfuscation, abdication of authority, collusion, and other contemptible behaviors currently trump honesty and integrity which the public rightly expects and deserves.
EnviroReporter.com notes that it is ironic for a man who espouses such moral standards to take a private e-mail that he knows was not meant for him, edit it, and respond to it in a hostile manner while copying government officials, a controversial developer and an unidentified real estate attorney.
But Riley’s seeming contempt for this reporter and the public concerns about Runkle Canyon do not end there:
Let me now explain to you why no decision has been made regarding Runkle Canyon. First you should know that DTSC completed its responses to public comments (along with additional white material and surface water sampling several months ago: the results were negative).
Actually, DTSC, under Riley’s leadership before he was sacked, had instructed KB Home to come up with a Draft Response Plan for assessing and cleaning up Runkle Canyon. That is the plan the public commented on as we reported in our seven-part series “Railroading Runkle Canyon?”
Riley never responded to public comments, which total in excess of 100 pages amongst at least five different parties. Yet even if he had, it wouldn’t have made a difference as he makes abundantly clear:
After the April 8 memo, I stated in weekly reports submitted to Mr. Movassaghi every Friday that a decision was needed on Runkle Canyon and recommended that DTSC should APPROVE the response plan, thus allowing Runkle Canyon LLC to proceed with removal of the tar material and the collection of additional samples.
Instead of addressing the scientifically and legally astute comments, Riley simply ignored them and would have violated DTSC procedure, as governed by State law, if he had approved the Response Plan without formally responding to comments. But he was apparently canned before he could do so, much to the relief of area residents like the Radiation Rangers’ Reverend John Southwick who expressed satisfaction at Riley’s removal as reported in “Coup de Goo.”
Riley went on to blame delays in Runkle Canyon on who he called my “mentor,” presumably meaning Dan Hirsch, president of the nuclear watchdog group Committee to Bridge the Gap:
The reason the plan was not approved is simply because one person who you and a diminishing number of others imitate in comments, disapproved of the involvement of Dade Moeller, one of the most highly respected firms in the business. DTSC found no reason to disqualify Dade Moeller whose only involvement in this project was to review and interpret the data, not to collect or manage the samples, but I was nevertheless, to my considerable worry and dismay instructed to contact the developer and suggest that they hire a different consultant due to “political” realities. Runkle Canyon LLC rightly refused this extortion. According to Mr. Movassaghi who was informed of that response, it was then later suggested by your mentor that the data collection called for in the response plan could proceed if Mr. Dempsey were available to witness the sampling activities. Oblvious [sic] to this insult against DTSC’s highly qualified field personnel, Mr. Movassaghi subsequently contacted USEPA about that possibility. I do not know what answer he was given (I was by that time excluded from nearly all meetings and communications concerning the SSFL and neighboring properties), but I suspect it was no different than the one I was given when I asked USEPA for technical assistance on radiological issues at the SSFL and surrounding site many months prior.
Riley’s suggestion that Hirsch is my “mentor” is absurd, as is the notion that anyone imitates him. Hirsch is singularly inimitable, and while he and I have not always seen eye to eye, the fact is that there would be no clean-up agreement without his 30 years of dedicated and conscientious work (let alone any museums.)