Operation Astroturf

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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.”

Related Material: “A Trail of Flames” & “A Keen Observer

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.

GARDEN OF EGO

John LukerBoeing 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.

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  1. Cindy says:

    Does anyone recognize any of the names of the people chosen to be on the CAG selection committee? See http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ssflcag/message/2190 I don’t think any of these people have been involved before except Walsh and Karchem who is new but gives cleanup advocates a hard time. I googled them all and see no history with SSFL whatsoever. One of them signed the CAG petition but is described as neutral? And another specializes in archaeology concerned with “protecting cultural heritage” so clearly in favor of the pollution park people. Another the “occidental petroleum chair” in chemistry with bad reviews by students at ratemyprofessors.com who say he gets mad at those who disagree with him. Another represents Chumash who seem more interested in getting the property and than clean up. So this group of strangers never involved before will pick who will be on the CAG meaning more like themselves easily fooled by Boeing DTSC etc. Seems to be the perfect group of “third parties” that Gary Polakovic wants to help Boeing avoid charges of greenwashing as his plan says. What a sham!!! The Udall Institute should be ashamed too and also I wonder who the CAG will get to fund the “neutral facilitator? To me this confirms points made in this article that the whole idea of the CAG was to get rid of one community and replace it with another one that isn’t a community at all. Meanwhile children in the community are exposed to all of the poisons from the lab but don’t worry they will commission a blue ribbon study to say its all ok nothing to see here move along.

  2. Another Simi mom says:

    Thank you for this excellent expose. I got a CAG application in the mail. No thanks I want no part in Boeing’s group. I support the old-timers – thank you for your dedication do not give up! It is worth it for the safety of our community.

  3. Joan Bien says:

    How do I feel about astroturfing and the mean-spirited nature of these nasty schemes? AAARRRRGGGGGHHHHHHH! Boeing and its co-conspirators have spent a lot of time planning how to undercut and destroy their critics and no time whatsoever on cleaning up the mess on their property. They prefer to save money and SUE the state. Someone cleaned up on that one.

  4. Troy Ng says:

    Wow, these Boeing guys are thorough. They’re getting good advice from their media and astroturf consultants, and they’re following it. Boeing’s going to assert over and over that they’re on the side of the angels, and casual observers will begin to believe them.

    This is depressing reading. Boeing is rich and persistent, and a number of folks in this story have clearly and simply been BOUGHT.

  5. Margery Brown says:

    Michael,
    Your incredible recording of all the events,emails, personalities, changes of alliances, and financial support by Boeing in this article make me feel like Alice, who fell down the rabbit hole into insanity. But then, poor Alice probably would have been wiped out by some Cesium 137 or some toxic chemicals.

    Thank goodness that you have been keeping track of all of this madness. This article has absolutely made my whole year! I didn’t realize how bad things have been until I read it. Please keep up your good work. I don’t see how things could possibly get any worse.

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