[KB Home’s Runkle Canyon development is now called Arroyo Vista at the Woodlands.]
When the Simi Valley City Council meeting adjourns tonight, it will most likely ink its approval of a five-year extension of KB Home’s option to build 461 homes in 1,595 acre Runkle Canyon.
That might not be such a bad idea.
With two years left on its original extension, the developer would have until the summer of 2019 to build out the project which has been mired in controversy since EnviroReporter.com exposed high strontium-90 readings in Runkle Canyon’s environmental impact report in March 2005.
Tonight’s decision will follow an extraordinary June 24 planning commission meeting where the five Simi Valley commissioners voted unanimously to green light the added time for the Westwood-based construction giant. Council members have already expressed support for the extension.
Runkle Canyon has been plagued by reports of high radiological, chemical and heavy metal contamination in the canyon since March 2005. The property borders the radioactive and chemical polluted nuclear Area IV of the 2,850-acre Santa Susana Field Laboratory, commonly known as Rocketdyne.
KB Home was determined not to see a repeat of its disastrous presentation at the last planning commission meeting May 23 (See “Runkle Canyon Tanks” June 1, 2012). Tom DiPrima, KB Home lead man on the project, brought a bevy of ‘experts’ who were supposed to shore up the corporation’s contention that the picturesque property is pollution-free.
But every dust cloud has a silver lining, even if it’s a strontium-90 infused one. It comes in the form of passage in the Agenda Summary for tonight’s city council meeting:
4. PUBLIC HEARINGS: NOTE ON PUBLIC NOTICE: This is the time and place set for a public hearing on the consideration of matters as presented on this agenda. Let the record show that due notice was given as required by law and an affidavit to this effect is on file in the Office of the City Clerk. The reports of the City Staff relating to these matters shall be made a part of the record of this meeting. NOTE ON JUDICIAL REVIEW: If you challenge in court any of the City Council decisions made here tonight, you may be limited to raising only those issues you or someone else raised at this public hearing. The time within which judicial review must be sought is governed by California Code of Civil Procedure Section 1094.6. [Our emphasis]
Thanks to the superb filming capabilities of the city’s city council chambers which include a comprehensive archive of past city council and planning commission meetings, tonight’s meeting will record the introduction of Runkle Canyon’s contamination issues since we first began reporting on them March 2005 for Los Angeles CityBeat & ValleyBeat.
This reporter will give the city clerk a binder with our Runkle Canyon media coverage as well as our comments to DTSC on the project as well as the comments of others that submitted them as well. Those comments were never answered by DTSC. Instead the residents and this reporter were treated to a form letter which didn’t address the comments.
DiPrima, sensitive to charges that he, in his own words, “lied” to the commission at the May 23 meeting, made sure that he was prepared for the June 20 meeting and had the people to prove it.
That preparation may have backfired, however, because DiPrima and company repeatedly mischaracterized the testing of the site inadvertently giving ammunition to any future fighting over the site’s environmental condition in court.
There the supremacy clause, a rule that allows federal law to supersede state law, might be applicable regarding the Clean Water Act and surface water runoff in Runkle Canyon and Runkle Canyon Creek. Not only has the developer ignored 2003 and 2004 Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board (LARWQCB) demands that it tests Runkle Canyon’s surface water, so has the city’s planning department.
KB Home’s presentation began with pleasantries from former planning commissioner and vice chair of the Ventura County Republican party, Dean Kunicki. “We need to rely on the truth,” Kunicki said. “We need to rely on the facts and we have to have some common sense in this case. Not on conjecture, not on innuendo and certainly out of context comments.”
Facts immediately began to take a holiday. DiPrima stepped to the microphone and pronounced that the LARWQCB signed off on project with other agencies. “Their conclusions after reviewing countless data on this site that it is safe for future residential,” DiPrima said. “Not only did we test the soil here, for years we have tested the surface water, the groundwater and though we’re not using the groundwater here for the site, that testing resulted in the 2007 Regional Water Quality Control Board, stating in their letter, that ‘no further tests of the site are necessary and approved the abandonment of the existing wells.’”
But that April 5, 2007 California Regional Water Quality Control Board letter actually states:
Based on groundwater sample analytical results for perchlorate, VOCs, and n-NDMA, the Regional Board has no further requirements for this site, monitoring wells may be abandoned in accordance with the California Department of Water Resources Bulletins 74-8 and 74-90 California Well Standards. [Our emphasis]
So if DiPrima and KB Home believe that parsing a letter dealing exclusively with groundwater to interpret it to cover Runkle Canyon surface water as well, it may be that they didn’t parse closely enough. The passage says “no further requirements for this site” meaning that the LARWQCB’s 2003 and 2004 requirements for a full suite of tests done on Runkle Canyon Creek water still must be done or KB Home will be violating the Clean Water Act.
DiPrima went on to cite a discredited 2005 study that even the government disowned saying, “In 2005, resampling of five locations in the open space taken again this time directed and overseen by the California Department of Public Health; splits were analyzed and the Department of Public Health test results were much lower than the 1990 [sic] test results.”
But the lower results were tossed by the department as not being of much use because of the high detection level.
DiPrima went on to talk about the windmill well as if he had never repeatedly said to the commissioners at the previous planning meeting that there were no tanks at the well. “Our opponents at the last meeting said there was TCE in this well,” which is inaccurate – concerned citizens had noted it had been found in the past, not that it was currently in the well. He went on to add that preliminary results in a recent round of testing show no TCE “above 2.0 parts per billion, the reporting limit, which would subject that as a non-detect.”
Defying logic and simple science, DiPrima departed on a rhetorical odyssey explaining how where the houses are to be built, a couple of miles from the Runkle Canyon and Rocketdyne border, should show the highest signs of contamination instead of the property line bordering Area IV where huge hits of strontium-90 have recently been detected by the US EPA yards from the Runkle property.
“Keep in mind one thing,” DiPrima began. “Let’s say you have a scenario, because I’ve heard by the opponents that the water runs right through this canyon. It’s not going to stop at the middle of the hill. If it would have settled anywhere, it would have settled at the bottom of the hill on the homes that are right here. We know we’re not seeing issues here, if it’s runoff, it doesn’t stop at a chain-link fence. It keeps moving and the most exposure would have been here because remember that bridge wasn’t here for many many years so it would come down in (arroyo) area and collect. From a surface water perspective.”
Convoluted explanation aside, Runkle Canyon Creek runs down into the Arroyo Simi and not where homes are. DiPrima then went on to describe an elaborate set of surface water tests, the results of which are unknown to this reporter probably because they may not exist. The Department of Toxic Substances Control says that it only took two surface water samples, miraculously devoid of any contaminants including no arsenic at all, but nothing like what DiPrima paints.
“We came back when it was raining,” DiPrima told the commissioners, “Waited until we had a storm event where we had water running on our site and working with DTSC we said ‘don’t just test in the one spot; test it all the way to where it goes to the end because I don’t want to hear that we tested here and oh it washed down. We tested all the way down.’”
DTSC has never mentioned any such tests.