When William Preston Bowling opened the Aerospace Cancer Museum of Education (ACME) May 13, 2008, he offered West Hills resident and founder of CleanUpRocketdyne.org, Christina Walsh, an irresistible partnership: a fully functioning facility that would be unlike any other museum in the world. Walsh jumped at the chance. Soon community meetings were taking place at the Southwest-styled building that once was a yoga studio along Valley Circle West. Under the direction of Bowling and Walsh, ACME promised to serve an important role in educating the community on SSFL’s past as well as current cleanup efforts.
Walsh had first came to this reporter’s attention in 2004 at a celebration of Rocketdyne-adjacent Ahmanson Ranch collapsing under the weight of perchlorate revelations. That land, even larger than SSFL in area, became state park land instead of the huge development that now-defunct Washington Mutual had fought for.
Walsh received praise from many quarters including this reporter. “Her expertise and ability to crunch numbers, analyze data, and conceptualize how it all stacks up in the grand scheme of things are remarkable,” I wrote in an August 20, 2009 EnviroReporter.com post entitled Cleanup Rocketdyne Runkle Canyon Comments. “Walsh has taken much of the work out of analyzing this information herself.”
What I hadn’t fully realized at the time is that Walsh was already prone to ruthless behavior. Her success at ACME had only fueled her zeal, need for recognition, and relationships with polluters and compromised government staff – all of which made her a perfect target for Boeing’s plan to undercut Hirsch and the Work Group and in effect replace the community.
On August 27, 2009, Boeing Environmental Communications’ Kamara Noelle Sams wrote Walsh and Bowling asking “[D]o you have some time to sit down with Tom Gallacher,” according to an e-mail obtained by EnviroReporter.com. “He’d like to update you on our status as it relates to the Consent Order. Please let me know.”
Gallacher is Director of Safety, Health and Environmental Affairs for Boeing at SSFL. On August 16, 2007, DOE, NASA and Boeing entered into a Consent Order for Corrective Action with DTSC, reads the DTSC draft consent order. It required that these three parties responsible for the contamination at the site “submit a corrective action schedule, and to take other steps necessary to complete the cleanup of all surficial media by June 30, 2017.”
Three days after Sams’ e-mail, it’s clear that Walsh and Gallacher did in fact meet. “Thank you for our recent meeting/discussion,” Walsh wrote Gallacher in an August 30 e-mail. “We have been doing a lot of thinking and have requested a cag. We will need support on this, and I hope you still mean it when you said you would fund a cag.”
A CAG was not needed – the SSFL Interagency Work Group had been an effective vehicle for public participation for over 20 years. But the Work Group members wanted SSFL cleaned up to strict standards, and Boeing did not. A replacement group was required, and an SSFL CAG would do just the trick. This was, and is, classic astroturfing.
“In the Summer of 2009, without my knowledge, Christina Walsh, founder of CleanupRocketdyne.org, accepts a meeting with The Boeing Co. then asks me to ‘Tag Along’ for ‘Support,” Bowling told EnviroReporter.com in an e-mail October 14. Bowling initially supported the CAG but grew to oppose it after his relationship with Walsh dissolved. “I had no knowledge of what was on the agenda until we got up to the Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL) and met Tom Gallacher (SSFL Site Director for Boeing).
“It was clear, from opening conversations that there had been extensive dialogue between Gallacher and Walsh. It was like they have been talking about this for weeks. As we settled in, it was requested that Kamara Sams (Environmental Communications Boeing) and Steve Shestag (Director of Remediation Boeing) ‘Sit in’ on the meeting. This is when Gallacher offered us money for a CAG (Community Advisory Group), he said ‘Boeing will fund it.’ We did not agree to anything, as we left with ‘Thinking about it.’ I find out after the fact that Christina agreed to the offer as she subsequently sent letters to elected officials and their staff without my knowledge.”
“I suggest you give Norm Riley a call,” Gallacher wrote Walsh September 1. “He can explain the process and most likely some of the hurdles that must be overcome to make this CAG a reality. Norms [sic] last day is this Thursday.”
Riley was an enormously controversial DTSC supervisor for both the SSFL and Runkle Canyon properties. He was first greeted enthusiastically by the community as he seemed like a straight-shooter. That honeymoon did not last long as it soon appeared that Riley felt that the law passed to protect and cleanup SSFL, SB-990, was too strict and shouldn’t be applied.
Riley was canned August 19, 2009, just days before the publication of article where he was quoted as siding with Boeing’s contention that SB 990 was unnecessarily restrictive. A few weeks later, Riley attacked EnviroReporter.com in an e-mail which was covered in a September 15 post called “Riley’s Revenge.” Riley would return onto the scene in 2012 as a lobbyist for KB Homes long-delayed development in Runkle Canyon which was under DTSC’s purview as well as SSFL, meaning Riley’s control. [KB Home’s Runkle Canyon development is now called Arroyo Vista at the Woodlands.]
In fact, Riley was one of several Boeing allies who had also pushed for a community-replacing CAG, including a former Boeing employee and Boeing consultants Charlie Stringer and Tom Eisenhauser of Renewable Resources Group. In a March 15, 2009 e-mail to activist John Luker, Walsh wrote, “As far as Norm saying you should lead a CAG, as you might have noticed by the very recent letter signed by SIX ELECTED OFFICIALS, you were not the first or the last he hit up…. He apparently went to many with the CAG idea and it came back and bit him pretty good.”
The letter from elected officials that Walsh refers to was a March 9, 2009 letter to then Secretary of CAL EPA Linda Adams decrying Riley’s efforts to push for a CAG. “We cannot see how an issue this technically, legally, and politically complex, and with such a long and tangled history, including the involvement of the Federal District Court, could possibly lend itself to a CAG,” states the letter signed by Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, State Senator Fran Pavley, former State Senator Sheila Kuehl, Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks, and Los Angeles City Councilmember Greig Smith.
Riley continued to push for a CAG that would replace the Work Group until his depature. In an November 2, 2009 e-mail to Walsh ally Mary Weisbrock, Riley suggested that instead of trying to get him reinstated, disgruntled community members put their energy toward a CAG that could counter the cleanup advocacy of the Work Group:
“I sincerely appreciate the support for my reinstatement voiced by you, Sue, Christina, Bill, Liz, and others; however, I must tell you that I do not think CalEPA or DTSC are paying serious attention to your requests, and I think it is extremely unlikely that they will ever ask me to return during this Administration. Perhaps it would be better if you were to focus your energies on the establishment of a Community Advisory Group (CAG) to replace the existing dysfunctional workgroup. A CAG would be superior to the workgroup in many respects and would create the possibility for technical assistance grants (funded by the RPs) to the CAG so that the community could have independent, qualified technical experts (selected by community members) advise on a range of relevant and important technical matters, and refute some of the nonsense excreted by current workgroup members.”
Walsh went ballistic with Riley’s removal and took to wearing “WWNRD?” black shirts standing for “What Would Norm Riley Do?” She kept her eye on the prize, however, as Boeing helped her negotiate her way to create a CAG. “Turning in 51 signatures today to petition a cag,” Walsh wrote Sams November 24, 2009.
In March 2010, after receiving a counter-petition signed by over 200 people, DTSC denied Walsh’s CAG. Walsh’s on-again-off-again pal John Luker also refused to support the CAG in an e-mail he sent to DTSC and others in which he decried her hostile behavior:
“This is no longer about SSFL and the cleanup or even about the CAG… it’s all about Christina. She has made herself the center of attention and she’s basking in it,” Luker wrote, continuing that only a few people wanted a CAG and the rest had been, “threatened with legal action, insulted, yelled at, called names, received threatening email, told they should be fired or in some way bullied into silence.”
All of this disruptive and dangerous behavior is evidenced by an avalanche of e-mails, forum posts and threatening voice mails generated by Walsh. Even Bowling tired of Walsh’s tirades and antics, and separated from her in 2010 after she tried to blame the closing of ACME on Hirsch and others.
But instead of addressing the behavior or distancing itself, DTSC only coddled Walsh more, creating a “Public Participation Group” or PPG that operated much like a CAG. DTSC coordinated the PPG but was reimbursed by the responsible parties, who customarily reimburse DTSC for its efforts in remediating toxic sites.
Longtime SSFL activists found the PPG meetings unproductive and claimed PPG membership was stacked with cleanup opponents. Walsh wasn’t satisfied either, as she wanted Boeing, DOE, and NASA to be included as PPG members as well. The general public and media did not attend the PPG meetings, which were viewed as too technical in nature.
But the idea of a Boeing-funded CAG that could replace the Work Group was not dead. All Boeing needed to do was wait for a new state administration more friendly to its cause.