Despite understandable faith in DTSC, supposedly dedicated to sticking to the rule book, the city’s mayor, councilmember and public were deceived: DTSC deliberately dismissed this information which showed the harm an unsuspecting public and its pets could face from the creek water when using the property as open space in the future.
According to one former DTSC staff on an Internet forum January 9, 2011, just weeks after the NFA was announced, the decision to ignore the city and citizen’s reports wouldn’t have mattered much anyway – no amount of science mattered. “Norm Riley declared that Runkle Canyon could be released for a NFA well over a year ago, even before the additional testing was done,” posted Susan Callery who left DTSC for work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The No Further Action decision, which would obviate the need for fencing along Runkle Creek warning residents against coming in contact with it, may come back to haunt future residents of any eventual development in Runkle Canyon. Since 2005, EnviroReporter.com had heard reports, one documented photographically, of cattle and dogs dying after drinking the foul creek water.
Voluntary cleanup agreements like the one signed between DTSC and KB Home carry little weight with a community familiar with the repeated ‘bait and switch’ shenanigans of government agencies and developers. In this case, however, it is the Simi Valley Planning Commission which is having its ability to assess the extension of KB Home’s option to build undermined by staff which falsely stated that the environmental regulatory agency looking over the property based its decision on all the information available.
The 1,595 acre property borders the nuclear area of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL), commonly known as Rocketdyne. The worst discharge of radiation from a meltdown in America occurred there at the Sodium Reactor Experiment in 1959 where hundreds of times more radiation was released from the uncontained reactor than at Three Mile Island in 1979 because the experimental reactor had no fortified structure housing the reactor like those seen at modern nuclear generating stations.
Since 2005, revelations about high strontium-90 contamination have dogged Runkle Canyon’s development plans. In 2007, the Radiation Rangers tested the surface water of Runkle Canyon Creek and found it loaded with high heavy metals. Two months later the city of Simi Valley did the same thing and the water results were even more polluted.
KB Home bought Runkle Canyon from developer Peter Kiesecker’s GreenPark Runkle LLC in 2006 for $38 million and has sunk at least $4 million in taxes and fees into the place even as the fight over the environmental condition of the place intensified. Clearly, the company has counted on its cash and clout to carry the day.
Planning staff told the commissioners that the city could pocket $900,000 immediately if it signed off on the extension, $30,000 each for ‘in lieu’ fees for 30 low income seniors housing that KB Home would no longer be obliged to build. The company has already paid $5 million for a senior center and, in terms of giving to the community, would build upon approval a dedicated water tank and donate 1,090 acres of open space to the city for hikers, bikers, nature lovers and folks wanting to get a glimpse of Rocketdyne’s grossly contaminated Area IV through the fence.
Runkle Canyon’s hard-on-the-fence-line with Rocketdyne is a reality that KB Home would like to erase and what better way to do that than to talk it away.
“It’s virtually impossible for water to drain from Area IV onto that part of the property,” DiPrima told the commissioners when Militello was finished, apparently forgetting the well-known fact that eleven acres drain from Area IV into Runkle Canyon.
It was in this drainage that the USEPA recently found strontium-90 at 145 times background near the chain link fence border with Runkle Canyon which was found at even higher levels on Runkle property by the developer’s first labs testing the site in 1998 through 2000. USEPA considers anything three times background or above to be “significantly” above background while the California Highway Patrol uses that level as a tripwire for a hazardous materials situation with all the attendant protocols to protect patrolmen and women from harm.
Even those levels aren’t of concern according to the report dated the same day as the DTSC NFA on Runkle Canyon was issued called “Runkle Canyon soil sample evaluation and risk assessment DMA-TR-43” by Dade Moeller, the lab KB Home hired to plot out new testing spots for soil samples and then to analyze them.
The Dade Moeller report found that not only was Runkle Canyon strontium-90 contamination-free, it had just one tenth of the national average of the radionuclide in the soil. The report had a high 38% fail rate testing its samples. The lab included in its report a 2005 Dade Moeller report debunked by EnviroReporter.com January 19, 2006 despite it being discredited by the government. The report was subsequently referred to by the then-California Department of Health Services’ employee Robert Greger as “not considered useful” because of its high detection rate limits. Yet there it is being cited in a report DTSC signed off on.
Dade Moeller’s NFA-timed report also went on to identify the amount of radiation that could be found in Runkle Canyon soil that would satisfy the Preliminary Remediation Goal for open space users, 22.7 picocuries per gram which is 547 times background, an astonishingly high level of exposure to be considered safe.
Preston Brooks inferred that the Dade Moeller radiation report showed no elevated levels at all and that all the measurements were within background levels at the site. Brooks declared their “methodology more precise” with “more samples taken recently than in the past.”
Even by Dade Moeller’s controversial laboratory methods, 7 out of 36 samples were elevated above background with strontium-90 using the old lab technique versus the more modern and accurate method of radiation employed by the Foster Wheeler for the developer in 1999 and Harding ESE in 2000 also for GreenPark Runkle. These internationally known industry leaders in radiation detection took many more samples than did KB Home’s 36 soil samples on 1,595 acres, or one sample every 44 acres. The Foster Wheeler tests totaled 58 alone.
Brooks asserted this, ironically, after pronouncing “I think you’ve heard a lot of just factual inaccuracies we’d like to clear up.”
Factual inaccuracies aside, Brooks questioned even the logic of suspecting in the first place that a big real estate developer would want to develop on polluted land next to a huge outdoor lab that had multiple nuclear meltdowns and 30,000 rocket engine tests that left massive chemical contamination.
“I find it interesting that anyone would think that a developer, any developer, would want to proceed in an area that was known to be contaminated,” Brooks said to a slightly incredulous Santino. “Why would a developer do that? It doesn’t make sense.”
Why indeed. Why did KB Home build 587 houses at Southridge Hills in Arlington Texas on a Navy practice bombing range from World War II before thoroughly remediating it first? The Army Corps of Engineers found 187 practice bombs in total with 58 potentially live ones in the development and the adjacent property.
According to San Antonio-based Home Owners for Better Building, KB Home bought property that had a 1956 federal government clearance that said the land could be used for “above-surface use to which the land is suited.” In 1998, the US Army Corps of Engineers advised the developers to hire an “unexploded ordnance contractor if they had intentions of developing the site.” Neither happened and the explosive situation resulted in a class action lawsuit against KB Home.
It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to ponder the motives for such actions, and actions like those witnessed at the May 23 Planning Commission meeting. The motive is money.
“These guys must take the commissioners for idiots which is a big mistake in Simi Valley,” said “The Good Reverend John” Southwick to EnviroReporter.com after the meeting. Southwick, like Bowling, is a Radiation Ranger. “They are lucky they weren’t under oath because I counted at least eight straight-out lies and several misrepresentations that could be considered lies. It was shameless and insulting to try to insinuate that we’re just a bunch of disgruntled residents. My opposition to this polluted place has cost me thousands in chemical tests the developer wouldn’t do and the notoriety of Runkle Canyon has hurt my property values. This nonsense must stop and the city of Simi Valley must protect its water supply and its citizens from this relentless developer more interested in dollar signs than building a safe development.”
Bowling is more sanguine but just as determined.
“You know, it would save the city a whole lot of grief and both it and KB Home a whole lot of money if they would see that the evidence is totally backed up by sound science from solid sources,” Bowling says. “It would be a tragedy if future residents and their kids get sick from a toxic stream or make the mistake of playing in radioactive dust. We’re here to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Wednesday June 20 meeting with public comment & vote on Runkle Canyon five-year development extension:
Simi Valley Planning Commission
City Council Chambers
2929 Tapo Canyon Road
Simi Valley, CA 93063
Call to Order: 7:00 pm