KB Home plans to build 461 homes in Runkle Canyon, adjacent to the highly polluted Rocketdyne site.
KB Home plans to build 461 homes in Runkle Canyon, adjacent to the highly polluted Rocketdyne site.

KB Home’s subcontractors claim that their testing indicates that only .26 out of a million people exposed to the Sr-90 at Runkle Canyon, even though the U.S. EPA clearly states otherwise. It sent a concerned Simi Valley resident an e-mail Dec. 6, 2005 touting the development’s safety . “As to your question regarding environmental concerns at the site, according to stringent EPA safety standards, we are well below what is safe for residential development, which are the highest level of environmental standards for any type of development,” wrote project representative Marlo Naber-Mole.

Clearly, the government’s findings further highlight problems with the project’s EIR that EnviroReporter.com has analyzed. Those problems could give the city grounds to ask for a new EIR. KB Homes has made no indication that it would want to undertake the expensive and time-consuming process though it may be forced to should the city demand additional radiation and chemical testing before any more grading and construction permits are issued.

Complicating the issue is the discovery possible chemical contamination in a Runkle Canyon creek on Thanksgiving, Nov. 23. Two photos, authenticated by EnviroReporter. com, show a chemical sheen in the muck in the stream along Runkle Canyon road, less than a mile from Rocketdyne’s lab. “Area IV” of the lab has an 11-acre drainage that leads into Runkle Canyon.

Runkle’s rocky history

While being filmed for a television news magazine segment Nov. 13, Simi Valley resident Patricia Coryell noticed that KB Homes had parked a bulldozer at the mouth of Runkle Canyon, where it wants to build 461 residences. That interview aired on KCET’s “Life & Times” program Nov. 21 and included interviews with this reporter and Simi Valley City Councilmember Barbra Williamson.

“Even with the City of Simi Valley putting grading permits on hold because of EnviroReporter’s radiation revelations, this scandalous company still wants to begin bulldozing these polluted hills,” says Coryell, who lives four doors down from Runkle Canyon. “We won’t let these developers send over a hundred tons of radioactive dust into our air and we won’t tolerate another inept government runaround about the high radiation in this canyon,” referring to abnormally-high readings of the leukemia-causing radionuclide strontium-90 (Sr-90). Many believe that this radiation came from fallout, possibly from the adjacent and infamously-polluted Rocketdyne, the site of the worst nuclear meltdown in American history.

KB Home and Lennar are the latest developers up to bat in the quest to build on Simi Valley’s picturesque Runkle Canyon. Those hopes were complicated by the Nov. 13 ousting of KB Home Chairman of the Board, Director and Chief Executive Officer, Bruce Karatz, who had served as CEO since 1986. According to numerous press reports, Karatz was one of the highest-paid executives in 2005, making $155.9 million, mostly from exercising stock options. Those options are now under investigation.

The previous would-be developer, GreenPark Runkle Canyon, struck out last year amid reports that the canyon was contaminated with the deadly radionuclide strontium-90 as we wrote in this annotated version of “Neighborhood Threat” March 10, 2005 for Los Angeles CityBeat/ValleyBeat.

It is suspected that the contamination originated from the nuclear test area of Santa Susana Field Laboratory, commonly known as Rocketdyne, part of which empties into an 11-acre drainage that flows directly into Runkle Canyon. Repeated tests, including retesting in June 2005, showed that the land still reads high for Sr-90 as we revealed and documented with this annotated version of “Hot Property” Jan. 19, 2006.

Many Simi Valley residents are alarmed by KB Homes and Lennar’s plans, unconvinced by the developers and the city’s claims that the land is safe as documented in “The Hills Have Eyes” Sept. 21, and “Unraveling Runkle” Sept. 28. Councilmember Barbra Williamson expressed publicly her opposition to moving forward with the project until our questions are answered in “Reining in Runkle” Oct. 26 and in extended comments which she appeared to back away from in the “Building on Toxic Soil?” program on KCET’s “Life & Times” Nov. 21.

The City of Simi Valley, responding to concerns about Runkle Canyon, halted to the development’s permitting Oct. 23 and created a “Runkle Canyon Update” link on its home page. The city has asked three government agencies to look at questions and issues that Los Angeles CityBeat/ValleyBeat and EnviroReporter have raised but from all indications, both the city and the state are standing fast that Runkle Canyon is safe to develop despite our overwhelming evidence that the soil may be highly radioactive and that the project’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is flawed, opening up Simi Valley to litigation should construction commence.

Last August 23, Simi Valley’s Director of Environmental Services, Al Boughey, completed a controversial two page report just two days after dozens of citizens came to a City Council meeting to protest KB Homes appearing ready to commence grading in Runkle Canyon. “STRONTIUM-90, PERCHLORATES AND GRADING WITHIN THE RUNKLE CANYON SPECIFIC PLAN AREA” discounts any danger from the strontium-90 in the soil and states “[S]ince the approval of the EIR, there has not (his emphasis) been any new information made available to the City staff to indicate that risks from strontium-90 or perchlorate on the site have been inadequately studied or disclosed.”

The facts tell a different story. On March 1, 2005, nearly a year after the Runkle Canyon EIR approval, Los Angeles CityBeat/ValleyBeat came out with the cover story “Neighborhood Threat – Runkle Canyon is poised to be Simi Valley’s newest neighborhood. But did the city misinterpret the risk of radioactive material in the ground?” That began an investigation that revealed new information that Boughey apparently won’t consider, data that was never properly evaluated simply because the city inadvertently or deliberately ignored it.

For instance, we have written, “In 1999, a lab hired by a former developer sampled Runkle dirt and found that it averaged six times the Environmental Protection Agency’s ‘preliminary remediation goal’ for Sr-90, a level that is presumed safe for residential development, and nearly 46 times above the typical EPA background level for strontium-90 in the area. The highest Sr-90 reading of the 58 samples taken was over 411 times higher than normal background.”

“The PRG [preliminary remediation goal] is set to indicate whether additional study is required,” Boughey wrote in his report. “Additional analysis was conducted to determine if these levels would expose people to a health risk pursuant to the EPA’s cancer risk range.”

In 2003, that additional analysis, by environmental consultants Miller Brooks, took the form of just six soil samples tested with detection equipment so insensitive that it couldn’t even detect Sr-90’s PRG. As our investigation showed, it was this study that the City of Simi Valley relied on to okay their EIR, an “analysis” that didn’t take into account that the pollution may have come from neighboring Rocketdyne. Factoring the polluted Boeing site into the mix would logically lead to testing for radionuclides associated with the site, scientific and environmental sources tell us, and the implementation of even more extensive grid sampling than the 58 soil samples taken in 1999.

Just six soil samples and questionable equipment; that’s what the city relied on and no one questioned it. Until now. Even the DHS has discounted the use of the 2003 testing. “The Miller Brooks survey is not considered due to its high minimum detectable activity, which ranged from 2.0 to 2.8 pCi/g,” according to a Nov. 8 DHS letter to the city. Yet this is the study the city of Simi Valley relied on. “The Miller Brooks study of 2003 was truly the report that we used … to do the EIR,” said city planner Peter Lyons in our initial exposé in early 2005.

Making the case for fully reopening the EIR to a new round of radionuclide and chemical contamination sampling, say residents, was the release of a shocking new Rocketdyne study in early October. “The study shocked even the most veteran SSFL observers, revealing that the now-infamous 1959 meltdown of the lab’s Sodium Reactor Experiment (SRE) most likely caused cancer in 260 to 1,800 people within a 62-mile radius of the east Ventura County lab,” we wrote. “The comprehensive probe reported that the SRE disaster released 459 times more of the deadly radionuclides iodine-131 and cesium-137 than Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island meltdown did in 1979.”

24 Years of Award-Winning SSFL/Rocketdyne Reporting
June 1998June 2022

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