GARDEN OF EGO
Boeing was also able to exploit the ambitions of San Fernando Valley resident John Luker. Luker is vice president of the Santa Susana Mountain Park Association, an organization whose mission is to “continue to preserve and protect habitats for plants and animals native to the location, unique geological formations, and sites of ethnological, archaeological, and historic interest.” While laudable, the group’s mission made it, and Luker, susceptible to the notion that Rocketdyne shouldn’t be cleaned up to background.
In a September 2010 email to Boeing, Luker asked for help checking for factual errors in copy accompanying a Flickr gallery of SSFL habitat that was going to be “stripped for short term political advantage” by the cleanup according to Luker. “I understand if some of you cannot comment, but, I wanted to make you all aware of what I’m going to be saying,” he wrote.
In a description for one photo, Luker wrote. “Just because there are constituents above background, does that mean this place is “Toxic”? Is it “Hazardous”? What exactly is the harm this place causes?” In another, he vowed to fight to the death to prevent a toxic spring from being remediated because it appeared beautiful. “This Plant is in the Southern Buffer Zone. In an Oak Riparian Woodland, right across the creek from a spring that is known to be seeping TCE. A phrase comes to mind… ‘Over my dead body!’”
Having been blind copied the e-mail, this reporter responded in a reply-all: “Are you saying that you would fight to the death over this lovely stream even though it may be impacted by TCE? Are you saying that the draft DTSC agreement with DOE and NASA is a grave mistake because one has more chance of getting cancer from driving on the 405 freeway than being at an unremediated SSFL? Are you suggesting that there be no cleanup, or at least no cleanup in these lovely spots?”
Luker did not respond though he has, from time to time, tried to engage me in hot story tips that he has never produced. His photos have since graced Boeing’s SSFL calendar and newsletter. Luker shares Boeing’s “vision for open space” and the curious contention that full remediation back to the way the lab was before being grossly contaminated would be worse than leaving the pollution in place.
But Luker’s motivation seemed to be as much about his status in the SSFL activist community as it was about what happens at the site. Early on, he was drawn to Walsh and Bowling for their leadership in the community as directors of the ACME facility. However, he was also hob-nobbing with Boeing, as a March 16 2009 e-mail from Walsh revealed. Walsh chided Luker for threatening her that he was “making side deals with Boeing” and telling her that if she wanted to know more she had better make him her (ACME’s) managing director.
Ultimately, in his quest for influence within the community, Luker set his sights on Dan Hirsch. In a February 2008 Ventura County Star article, Luker fawned over Hirsch “He is the most intelligent guy I have ever met,” said John Luker, a newer activist from Box Canyon. “You can’t underestimate him.”
“I’ve been talking to Dan,” Luker wrote in a March 16 , 2008 e-mail to Walsh, “and he is of the opinion that everyone needs to stop the hate.” This is ironic, considering the hostility Luker would later direct at Hirsch. In an April 2010 e-mail, Luker stated that no one in the community had the leadership skills to run a CAG “myself and Dan Hirsch included,” indicating he fancied himself in Hirsch’s league.
But Luker was trying to work both sides, and that could only last for so long. After he couldn’t talk Hirsch into going for lower cleanup standards, he went on the attack. He developed a fixation that became increasing obsessive and decidedly nasty.
In a series of e-mails, Luker repeatedly attacked and interrogated Hirsch and demanded that he talk or meet with him. Luker also sent the messages to other members of the community, demanding that they make Hirsch talk to him.
The questions Luker demanded that Hirsch answer read more like a list of accusations, and absurd ones at that. He demanded that Hirsch prove he went to Harvard, to know who his “resource people” were and when he could meet with them (“I have been asking this question for 2 years and NEVER gotten an answer!” he exclaimed), how much money Hirsch made, if he was a registered lobbyist, if his students knew he does research for a private foundation, and more.
In one exchange, Luker berated Hirsch for “bullying the little old ladies you hide behind” and then forwarded the e-mail to the members of the Rocktdyne Cleanup Coalition, to whom he was referring, demanding that they answer his questions. Luker also gloated that he had been studying Hirsch for six years and it paid off as “important people” were now introducing him to legislators. “Why shouldn’t the Boeing Co make a profit off this cleanup?” he asked in an insult-laden e-mail to Hirsch that ended with an invitation to lunch.
The cumulative effect of this kind of behavior is that it disrupts the process that will lead finally to conclusion, cleanup. It does that primarily by just being offensive and harassing, which drives away multitudes of residents who live close to Rocketdyne, a process this reporter has witnessed since 1998. Typical community members just don’t want to deal with hostile people, let alone ones playing one-upmanship with each other and footsie with the polluter at the same time.
In January 2011, Governor Jerry Brown took office, appointing Matt Rodriquez as Secretary of Cal-EPA and Debbie Raphael as DTSC Director. For Boeing, things began to look up.
By this time, Walsh had grown to disparage SB 990, the state law she had once fought for, as well as the Agreements on Consent which required DOE and NASA to cleanup their portions of the site to background. She claimed that the Work Group did not represent her “needs as a community member” and became incensed when her request to make a presentation at a May 2011 Work Group meeting was declined. In addition, Walsh had managed to attract other disgruntled characters, some who were oddly enough completely new to the community yet opposed to both a full cleanup of the site and the Work Group.
Equally troubling were the disruptive tantrums that Walsh now threw regularly in meetings that even caused some community members to fear for their physical safety. These concerns were expressed to Raphael and other DTSC staff, who did nothing.
In October 2011, cleanup opponents sent a spate of nasty e-mails to DTSC demanding that Hirsch be removed from the Work Group and the panel membership be modified to include them. In response, DTSC cancelled the upcoming Work Group meeting. In January 2012, it cancelled the PPG meeting as well. The following month, DTSC cancelled another pending Work Group meeting and announced that the EPA would be ending its role as the facilitator and sponsor of the Work Group meetings, so it would be reviewing the needs of the entire community.
As months went on, the lack of meetings and failure to produce a new public participation plan created a void that Walsh used to reintroduce a CAG. On July 30, Walsh submitted a second online CAG petition, and the department immediately approved it.
This concerned longtime activists, as Walsh had previously been suspected of creating false identities to criticize cleanup activists on online forums and news websites. Indeed, evidence obtained by EnviroReporter.com shows Walsh assuming various online identities to attack community members viciously, even using one alias to claim she had cancer.
When the community members inquired about the CAG verification, Raphael confirmed in an August 3 e-mail that DTSC began working with Walsh on the CAG formation on the same day it received the petition, and that the petition “met the only legal requirement outlined in the law: it contained 50 or more signatures.”
But the law actually says otherwise – Cal. Health & Safety Code §25358.7.1.(a), states that the petition must be “signed by at least 50 members of a community affected by the response action at a site.” Many names on the online petition lived out of the area, some gave no last names, and the petition even included former DTSC staff-turned-KB Home-lobbyist Norm Riley and DTSC press contact Susan Callery. Further, the petition service, Signon.org, does not reveal any contact information to petition targets, so it would be impossible to verify that the signers were real people.
After DTSC received a letter from the Rocketdyne Cleanup Coalition’s attorney protesting the process, DTSC asked Walsh to turn in another petition.
According to her blog, Walsh went to a local Starbucks to collect the signatures, and turned it in on September 12. A review of the petition shows only a handful recognizable names from the SSFL cleanup community. Page 23 even reveals a most questionable signature, see image right.
According to a letter from DTSC that Walsh also posted, DTSC’s verification procedure involved simply reviewing zip codes of the signers and approving the ones that were within five to ten miles of the site.
DTSC redacted the contact information for the signatures, so there is no way to independently verify that the petition is valid. Of course, blocking the document from public scrutiny only served to place the CAG – and DTSC – under further suspicion.
At the same time that Walsh was working to create a CAG, longtime community members were fighting to save the Work Group. DTSC and Cal-EPA provided many excuses for why the group couldn’t be continued, none of which held up to fact or reason.
At first, Debbie Raphael told the Work Group members that DTSC didn’t do “membership groups”, and that she had never heard of a group whose members continued in perpituity. But Raphael’s own External Advisory Group (EAG) is comprised of “environmental groups, representatives from Industry, and individuals from local communities” who are not democratically elected and who continue on the EAG in perpituity.
Last August, community members met with Miriam Ingenito, Assistant Deputy Secretary for Cal-EPA and were told that the state lacked the legal authority to convene the Work Group, and they should either ask the federal government to fund and convene the group or ask members of the legislature to provide DTSC the authority to convene the Work Group.