A Trail of Flames

Boeings-Meltdown-Makeover-graphicrev

For decades, the Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL) activist community was relatively harmonious. Longtime members welcomed new activists, and the new activists were respectful toward them.

Over the past few years, however, a handful of activists became increasingly competitive, disruptive, and volatile. Inappropriate behind the scenes behavior spilled into public meetings, along with threats of lawsuits and violence, and efforts to harm to others by destroying their livelihoods by (contacting their employers, defaming them online) and destroying their personal relationships (contacting family, friends, and associates). Longtime community members felt intimidated and bullied, some even became fearful for their safety.

Not surprisingly, poor behavior and a desire for power and recognition became a deadly combination for the cleanup of SSFL. In 2009, Boeing fanned the flames of contention by suggesting that some disgruntled community members form a CAG in opposition to the Work Group. Shortly thereafter, some community members who had previously pushed for strict cleanup standards began changing their tune, expressing concern for how the cleanup would affect the habitat and the historic value of the site. Adding pro-polluter positions on top of behavioral problems turned into a recipe for disaster.

California EPA and Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) staff were well aware of the problem as they witnessed tantrums in public meetings, were often copied on defaming e-mails, subscribed to blogs where much of the nastiness was recorded, and were personally told of these concerns by longtime community members. The agency did nothing to stop or even address the poor behavior, and ultimately, by approving a CAG, has now rewarded and thus encouraged it.

Of the disgruntled, no one has been more prolific than CAG leader Christina Walsh. For over three years, Walsh has afflicted the SSFL community with a torrent of e-mails, voice mails, false accusations, and threats. Anyone who dare disagree with her, on any matter, can quickly become subject to her ire. Armed with legal threats and an intimidating personality (she’s also a black belt), few have stood up to her.

Walsh has left a trail of flames on voice mail, text messages, Yahoo groups and e-mails. Below is only a small sample of the documentation that has been collected by and provided to EnviroReporter.com.

But first, it is important to state that prior to 2009, the community was generally peaceful and united. In fact, in 2008, Walsh had nothing but praise for SSFL community stalwart Dan Hirsch. By late 2009, she had begun criticizing him, and by 2010, had made him the objective of near obsessive disparagement. Similarly in 2008, she praised EnviroReporter.com, which she later came to vilify. It is worth noting that Walsh also was in full support of the State’s strict SSFL cleanup measure SB 990 at that time. See Walsh’s 2008-2009 posts from the Rocketdyne Information Society (RIS) Yahoo Group.

Though Walsh’s public behavior was decent in 2008, behind the scenes nastiness was brewing in her relationship with activist John Luker. E-mails from him that she forwarded to others reveal that he was so frightened of her behavior that he hired a lawyer. He wrote that she threatened him, stalked him, called him names and threatened his wife – all the while claiming to be the one victimized. After DTSC denied Walsh’s first CAG request, in 2010, Luker summarized his assessment of Walsh’s impact on the community in a letter to DTSC regarding the CAG.

Conflict in the community escalated in August 2009 after DTSC’s Norm Riley was reassigned from the SSFL project. At a meeting at the Aerospace Cancer Museum of Education (ACME), there was division about whether or not a CAG would be a good idea. A community member who had been on good terms with Walsh, noticed that her behavior seemed troubled and tried to express concern. Walsh responded as if she were being attacked and began her conspiratorial accusations that Dan Hirsch was behind everything Walsh didn’t like and everyone who disagreed with her. She was particularly insulting to the community member, a cancer survivor, by stating in an e-mail that “this can’t be about revenge for cancer.”

In January of 2010, PSR-LA Associate Director Denise Duffield (who is also EnviroReporter.com’s editor and webmaster) sent a letter to ACME requesting that the organization be dissociated from ACME and for the return of a nuclear library it had previously donated. Walsh forwarded the letter to the RIS Yahoo Group that had over 200 members including responsible parties, regulators, government officials, and media. Though Walsh had published the private letter, she accused the Nobel Peace Prize winning organization of slander.

In March, 2010, Walsh’s husband, Michael, sent a certified letter from his law firm Sedgwick, Detert, Moran and Arnold LLP to PSR-LA, demanding an apology. Apologies are not the business of law firms – the letter was meant only to intimidate and cause trouble. Walsh posted the Sedgwick letter on the RIS Yahoo Group as well. Both letters can be viewed on RIS, where they have remained since she posted them.

Repeated telephone and e-mail media requests to Sedgwick’s media contact, Kathleen Flynn, to confirm or deny whether the law firm was aware that their employee Michael Walsh had demanded an apology on company stationary went unanswered.

Walsh repeatedly disparaged Dan Hirsch and Michael Collins and blamed them for the closing of ACME. She accused Collins of being an online persona “Keen Observer,” though later it was discovered that her IP address matched messages by that name. Soon after, William Preston Bowling, founder of ACME who co-operated the museum with Walsh at the time, decided that he would not stand for her blaming the museum’s closing on Hirsch, and others, and initiated a spit with Walsh.

In September 2010, Walsh wrote an e-mail to journalist Joan Bien who had previously co-authored a story with Michael Collins about SSFL for Miller-McCune. The article contained an interview with Norm Riley in which Riley concedes to not supporting SB 990. Walsh accused Bien of writing the article because Dan Hirsch told her to, and made a bizarre claim that Michael Collins had tried to destroy her marriage and livelihood. Bien gave a detailed response to Walsh refuting her claims and giving her legal advice that she had libeled Collins and to cease communicating with her.

Walsh used at least six alias names on RIS and on her own CAG Yahoo Group with the intent to disparage Dan Hirsch, Collins, Bowling and others. She even created a personality to post flattering messages about Collins to make it appear that he was the alias so others could attack him. The most egregious offense was pretending to be a cancer victim in order to insult Bonnie Klea, herself a cancer survivor and stalwart champion of Rocketdyne workers. Later, Walsh used the name “Nancy Stevens” in an attempt to post nasty comments on EnviroReporter.com.

When Walsh’s former business partner and co-owner of ACME, William Bowling, severed his business relationship with Walsh, he became the target of threatening e-mails and phone calls. She contacted his employer, posted disparaging messages on her Yahoo Group, and harassed his friends and family.

In an October 18, 2010 e-mail, Bowling responded to Walsh’s attacks:

“From your additional e-mail threat on October 4, 2010 that I Will need another lawyer you [Mr. Bowling] cannot afford and back to your recorded slander in your September 14, 2010 WebEx SSFL CAG meeting that claims I kicked you off RIS (The Rocketdyne Information Society) and reject your postings to your Alter-ego or Fake persona Astrid Samuelson from Bell Canyon (Sometimes goes by Astrid Hunt) that continues to make William Preston Bowling and/or ACME look like a wolf in sheeps clothing, I find these not to be actions of a leader who is to take helm of a Community Advisory Group.

During the tenure of our partnership I did not mind many of the unilateral decisions made as they usually turned out to be spot on. I knew, I had to walk away from everything, when you wanted to place blame on Dan Hirsch and PSR for the museum closing it s doors, when in fact you Knew, the True reason why. There was no turning back at that point as I cannot work in that capacity and I then made the unilateral decision not to show up for our closing ceremonies.”

Walsh has continued to mount a campaign against Dan Hirsch, blaming and vilifying him in e-mails and online forums, even claiming he stole her photos to put on his website (the photos actually belonged to Bill Bowling, who had given them to Hirsch.)

One reason SSFL community members were and are afraid to put their concerns in writing to DTSC is that Walsh frequently does public records requests. In March 2010, she posted on her website e-mail correspondence between Hirsch and EPA Secretary Linda Adams that she had acquired through a Public Records Act request.

In an October 2010 meeting, the Department of Energy’s (DOE) John Jones spoke against the Agreements on Consent (AOCs) despite being told by DTSC’s Rick Brausch that they should have a private conversation about it. Hirsch reminded Jones that his boss, the Secretary of the Department of Energy, had signed the AOCs. Walsh and the disruptors immediately claimed that Hirsch was trying to get Jones fired and launched an e-mail campaign to have Hirsch removed from the Work Group. In response, DTSC canceled the next Work Group meeting, rewarding bad behavior and causing great concern in the community over the department’s lack of understanding of the situation.

Walsh also attacks longtime SSFL activists and elected officials. In this post on her blog, she refers to members of the Rocketdyne Cleanup Coalition as “Dan’s old lady army.” Note in this message, she also disparages the Agreements on Consent between DTSC and NASA to clean the site up to background levels. In an e-mail to one community member last November, Walsh tells the community member that she doesn’t not have permission to speak her name, and that if she doesn’t abide by Walsh, she will “finally understand what regret means.” In June, she wrote another community member and referred to then State Representative Julia Brownley and State Senator Fran Pavley as “photo op whores.”

Calling Brownley and Pavley names might not have been Walsh’s smartest move considering that the two Democrats have been Rocketdyne cleanup powerhouses for years. Indeed, both have honored Walsh for work done while still associated with Bowling’s ACMELA museum. Pavely was just re-elected to a district which represents neighborhoods downhill from SSFL and along the LA River. Brownley became more influential by winning the 26th Congressional District in Ventura that borders SSFL at the Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve. Both Brownley and Pavley are strong advocates of the SSFL Work Group and making sure Rocketdyne is cleaned up to background.

Walsh also has a habit of leaving hostile voice mails for community members, who have the good sense to save them. In one, she tells a community member that if he doesn’t do as she wishes, his “life is going to be hell.” Many of the calls come with legal threats “see you in court” or “you’ll be hearing from my lawyer.” By this of course, she means her husband Los Angeles Superior Court Judge and attorney Michael M. Walsh with Sedgwick, Detert, Moran & Arnold, LLP, who has obliged her occasionally.

Walsh’s behavior has only hindered and distracted from efforts to cleanup SSFL. Now that DTSC has eliminated the SSFL Work Group over the objections of hundreds of community members and granted Walsh’s Boeing-supported CAG, she has everything she wants. It would seem, however, that she isn’t about to end her harassment and threats against community activists.

“Fuck yourself, you thief!” Walsh wrote Bowling in the first of two text messages October 16, 2012. “Go to hell. You are a slanderous bully and you disgust me. Where is my money? You owe me thousands. Fu”

“Besides what do you care?” Walsh said in the second text. “Dan Hirsch up your ass. You must be so proud! Keep him funded while you fuck public health. cease and desist, thief!”

This is who DTSC has saddled up with. This is the leader of the new SSFL CAG.