KB Home’s backdoor deal with the city of Simi Valley to build out Runkle Canyon may backfire with new radiation and chemical finds and evidence developer kept EPA from testing well contaminated with TCE
[KB Home’s Runkle Canyon development is now called Arroyo Vista at the Woodlands.]
• Runkle Canyon planning meeting in Simi tonight – *UPDATED* BELOW
• EPA finds huge strontium-90 hit uphill and next to Runkle Canyon boundary
• DTSC signs off on KB Home’s shoddy testing of site for radiation
• Radiation Ranger finds evidence of possible nuclear and chemical dump in Runkle Canyon government and developer apparently missed
• New EPA radiation study finds alpha radiation in offsite well 2 miles from Rocketdyne with over 8 times alpha radiation’s Maximum Contaminant Level
The Simi Valley Planning Commission plans to rule tonight on whether to allow KB Home to extend its option to build in Runkle Canyon for another five years from 2014 to 2019.
KB Home’s Runkle Canyon LLC has been stymied in building 461 homes and condominiums in the 1,595-acre canyon since news broke in 2005 that neighboring Rocketdyne most likely contaminated the property with radioactive and chemical contamination including strontium-90 and trichloroethylene, or TCE.
By 2006, a Simi Valley-based citizens group, the Radiation Rangers, formed and created a website StopRunkledye.com to organize resistance to the project. The group’s finding of toxic levels of heavy metals in Runkle Canyon Creek in 2007 also has delayed KB Home’s plans for a huge development hard on the border of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory, or SSFL.
SEE GALLERY of Runkle Canyon windmill well turned dumpsite
According to the Department of Energy, which operates Area IV on land leased from lab owner Boeing, a nuclear meltdown occurred at the site in 1959. Two partial meltdowns occurred at Area IV in 1964 and 1969. Radiological and chemical pollution at the lab, which is at the headwaters of the Los Angeles River, is so extensive that it has been the center of an environmental fight that stretches back to 1989.
So it would seem natural that the Westwood-based home building giant would want to quietly obtain the option of another half a decade to build on property adjacent SSFL. After all, the company has over a million dollars to hand over to the cash-strapped city which it dearly would love to have.
SEE GALLERY of May 17, 2012 SSFL Open House with EPA posters showing high strontium-90 adjacent Runkle Canyon and high alpha radiation in Brandeis-Bardin wells
Just one problem. The public. It wasn’t given notice for the meeting nor did it have a chance to legally comment on the city’s Runkle Canyon Final Environmental Impact Report Draft Addendum because, as its Department of Environmental Services document says, “Public review of an Addendum is not required by CEQA [the California Environmental Quality Act].”
However, if any Environmental Impact Report, or EIR, has significant new information, new EIR information must be developed and included according to state law.
“If new significant impacts or a substantial increase in the severity of significant impacts identified in the previous EIR would result,” the city report continues, “then preparation and circulation of a Subsequent or Supplemental EIR for additional public review is required.”
The public meeting subterfuge failed but just barely. Out walking his dog last week, Radiation Ranger “The Good Reverend John” saw a sign posted at the lonesome end of Sequoia Avenue declaring that a public meeting was taking place May 23.
“With all the things wrong with Runkle Canyon and the intense fight the community has put up for six years trying to stop this thing, you’d would have thought the city would have the courtesy to at least tell us that they were going to have this meeting,” Rev. Southwick says. “Their excuse is that there’s nothing new to report but the city hasn’t a clue what’s going on in Runkle Canyon.”
“Signing off on this project with KB Home is like playing Runkle Roulette with a fully loaded revolver,” Rev. Southwick says. “The city and developers will pull the trigger but it’s the community that’ll get shot.”
EnviroReporter.com has uncovered evidence that KB Home has attempted to block the federal Environmental Protection Agency, or USEPA, from testing in a windmill well for cattle already known to be polluted by the carcinogen TCE in the highlands of Runkle Canyon.
This denial of access to Runkle Canyon comes even as astronomically high levels of Rocketdyne-related contamination has just been found miles away from the lab in a well at the Jewish educational retreat of Brandeis-Bardin Campus at American Jewish University in eastern Simi Valley. The facility is just downhill from the rocket and nuclear reactor complex at SSFL which is slowly being torn down and remediated.
Not only has the would-be developer of the picturesque canyon with broad meadows denied USEPA access to retest the Runkle Canyon well for any continued contamination, both it and the city of Simi Valley twice ignored Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control directives in 2003 and 2004 to test Runkle Canyon Creek for pollution under the aegis of the Clean Water Act.
Runkle Canyon’s so-called “blue line” stream is part of the Calleguas watershed which is listed under the act as being impaired. Water from the canyon runs off to the Arroyo Simi where it percolates into the groundwater where it is re-pumped up, blended, and served to over 7,000 residents mostly in the eastern part of Simi Valley.
EnviroReporter.com has also learned that an extremely high detection of the radionuclide strontium-90 was recently detected by USEPA in bushes up gradient of Runkle Canyon just across the chain-link fence border of Area IV. That detection of Sr-90, without the usually corresponding cesium-137 signature, seems to confirm 1999 and 2000 developer tests showing high hits of the bone and blood cancer-inducing radionuclide’s presence, something KB Home has been trying to test away since 2007.
City and state government officials assert that these retests are more accurate than the plethora of analyses performed by several different labs for the developers. In addition, EnviroReporter.com uncovered evidence that not only were tests for strontium-90 in Runkle Canyon by the city and developers inaccurate and “suspect” according to standards of the Department of Energy, the actual methods used to acquire these suspect results were decades old and not the latest kind of radiation science used to detect radiation in soil.
Yet despite this evidence, the state EPA’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) signed off on the safety of Runkle Canyon in December 2010 in the waning days of the Schwarzenegger administration. The decision came as a surprise to the community, who had been expecting a response to the hundreds of pages of public comment they had submitted regarding the contamination. Not only did DTSC ignore public comment by sending out an identical response to each commenter which didn’t answer their questions and concerns, the department relied on shaky science that led to its fateful decision. DTSC honchos trumpeted falsehoods about the environmental realities of Runkle Canyon to local media at the time giving residents the impression that there existed no toxic threats posed by the site’s conditions.
Shoddy city and developer testing along with new EPA radiation findings devastate the notion that Runkle Canyon is free of radioactive and chemical pollution caused by the adjacent Rocketdyne lab. Perhaps just as troubling is the continued pattern of the city of Simi Valley, Runkle Canyon’s developers and the state of California to dismiss the residents’ repeated, and backed up, assertions that Runkle Canyon is polluted by the neighboring property which has an 11-acre drainage into the canyon.
Residents like the Radiation Rangers had hoped that KB Home would abandon its plans to build on land so troubled by environmental concerns. But the end-around push to develop Runkle Canyon ignoring municipal and state law based on outdated and suspect science has made it clear that the community is on its own. It will have to attempt to protect itself from, among other consequences of construction, over 112 tons of strontium-90 impacted dust being launched into the air that will land on both the Simi and San Fernando valleys.
The Radiation Rangers and longtime Rocketdyne cleanup activists have drawn a line in the sand. That line may be breached tonight if the Simi Valley Planning Commission signs off on one of the most controversial development projects Southern California has ever experienced.
The Runkle Canyon windmill well is several hundred yards from the property line of Area IV of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory in the hills between the Simi and San Fernando valleys. At over 2,000 feet elevation, the well has been used to water cattle that have grazed on the land intermittently for decades.
The slope on which the Runkle windmill site sits drains into the Upper Las Virgenes Open Space Preserve, or Ahmanson Ranch. The ranch also was a target for development over a decade ago when then-existent bank Washington Mutual had endeavored to build thousands of luxury homes also on land adjacent Area IV and Rocketdyne’s so-called southern buffer zone.
That project when belly-up when, in 2002 for the LA Weekly newspaper, this reporter questioned the makeup of the 660,000 gallons of groundwater that “WaMu” planned to use daily to water parks, common areas and the proposed golf course. One water test came back positive for perchlorate, a rocket fuel oxidizer that is toxic and targets the thyroid making it especially dangerous for children and pregnant women.
That was the beginning of the end for the Ahmanson Ranch project. WaMu donated the land to the state of California in October 2003 for $150 million, a fraction of what the $2 billion development was potentially worth. The acclaim for this environmental victory stands in stark contrast to the verbal bloodbath unleashed by the fighting over Runkle Canyon in the last seven years.
Today, downhill from Runkle’s windmill well, Ahmanson Ranch’s stream water has the same chemical sheen that Runkle Canyon Creek water does, creek water that tested high for arsenic, nickel and vanadium by the Radiation Rangers in 2007. The city of Simi Valley retested the creek two months later and found even higher results for toxic heavy metals in the ephemeral stream yet, oddly, proclaimed in the local press that their results came back clean.
Next to the well are dozens of 55-gallon drums that appear to have contained solvents or some other kind of toxic material that have been illegally dumped on the site and left to corrode. The contents appear to have burned the outside skins of the barrels and the grass around them.
Most striking, however, are two giant metal tanks, one of which used to hold 8,000 gallons and still has its metal label intact: UNDERGROUND TANK FOR FLAMMABLE LIQUIDS. The massive tank is tipped towards the windmill well with tubes running from its top into the substrata clearly to pour the contents into the well.