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False statements and illegal taping plague Simi Valley planning commission meeting

When the Simi Valley City Council meeting adjourns tonight, it will most likely ink its approval of a five-year extension of KB Home’s option to build 461 homes in 1,595 acre Runkle Canyon.

That might not be such a bad idea.

With two years left on its original extension, the developer would have until the summer of 2019 to build out the project which has been mired in controversy since EnviroReporter.com exposed high strontium-90 readings in Runkle Canyon’s environmental impact report in March 2005.

[KB Home’s Runkle Canyon development is now called Arroyo Vista at the Woodlands]

Tonight’s decision will follow an extraordinary June 24 planning commission meeting where the five Simi Valley commissioners voted unanimously to green light the added time for the Westwood-based construction giant. Council members have already expressed support for the extension.

Runkle Canyon has been plagued by reports of high radiological, chemical and heavy metal contamination in the canyon since March 2005. The property borders the radioactive and chemical polluted nuclear Area IV of the 2,850-acre Santa Susana Field Laboratory, commonly known as Rocketdyne.

KB Home was determined not to see a repeat of its disastrous presentation at the last planning commission meeting May 23 (See “Runkle Canyon Tanks” June 1, 2012). Tom DiPrima, KB Home lead man on the project, brought a bevy of ‘experts’ who were supposed to shore up the corporation’s contention that the picturesque property is pollution-free.

But every dust cloud has a silver lining, even if it’s a strontium-90 infused one. It comes in the form of passage in the Agenda Summary for tonight’s city council meeting:

4. PUBLIC HEARINGS: NOTE ON PUBLIC NOTICE: This is the time and place set for a public hearing on the consideration of matters as presented on this agenda. Let the record show that due notice was given as required by law and an affidavit to this effect is on file in the Office of the City Clerk. The reports of the City Staff relating to these matters shall be made a part of the record of this meeting. NOTE ON JUDICIAL REVIEW: If you challenge in court any of the City Council decisions made here tonight, you may be limited to raising only those issues you or someone else raised at this public hearing. The time within which judicial review must be sought is governed by California Code of Civil Procedure Section 1094.6. [Our emphasis]

Thanks to the superb filming capabilities of the city’s city council chambers which include a comprehensive archive of past city council and planning commission meetings, tonight’s meeting will record the introduction of Runkle Canyon’s contamination issues since we first began reporting on them March 2005 for Los Angeles CityBeat & ValleyBeat.

This reporter will give the city clerk a binder with our Runkle Canyon media coverage as well as our comments to DTSC on the project as well as the comments of others that submitted them as well. Those comments were never answered by DTSC. Instead the residents and this reporter were treated to a form letter which didn’t address the comments.

The coverage will include this article which documents the June 20 planning commission meeting.

DiPrima, sensitive to charges that he, in his own words, “lied” to the commission at the May 23 meeting, made sure that he was prepared for the June 20 meeting and had the people to prove it.

That preparation may have backfired, however, because DiPrima and company repeatedly mischaracterized the testing of the site inadvertently giving ammunition to any future fighting over the site’s environmental condition in court.

There the supremacy clause, a rule that allows federal law to supersede state law, might be applicable regarding the Clean Water Act and surface water runoff in Runkle Canyon and Runkle Canyon Creek. Not only has the developer ignored 2003 and 2004 Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board (LARWQCB) demands that it tests Runkle Canyon’s surface water, so has the city’s planning department.

KB Home’s presentation began with pleasantries from former planning commissioner and vice chair of the Ventura County Republican party, Dean Kunicki. “We need to rely on the truth,” Kunicki said. “We need to rely on the facts and we have to have some common sense in this case. Not on conjecture, not on innuendo and certainly out of context comments.”

Facts immediately began to take a holiday. DiPrima stepped to the microphone and pronounced that the LARWQCB signed off on project with other agencies. “Their conclusions after reviewing countless data on this site that it is safe for future residential,” DiPrima said. “Not only did we test the soil here, for years we have tested the surface water, the groundwater and though we’re not using the groundwater here for the site, that testing resulted in the 2007 Regional Water Quality Control Board, stating in their letter, that ‘no further tests of the site are necessary and approved the abandonment of the existing wells.’”

But that April 5, 2007 California Regional Water Quality Control Board letter actually states:

Based on groundwater sample analytical results for perchlorate, VOCs, and n-NDMA, the Regional Board has no further requirements for this site, monitoring wells may be abandoned in accordance with the California Department of Water Resources Bulletins 74-8 and 74-90 California Well Standards. [Our emphasis]

So if DiPrima and KB Home believe that parsing a letter dealing exclusively with groundwater to interpret it to cover Runkle Canyon surface water as well, it may be that they didn’t parse closely enough. The passage says “no further requirements for this site” meaning that the LARWQCB’s 2003 and 2004 requirements for a full suite of tests done on Runkle Canyon Creek water still must be done or KB Home will be violating the Clean Water Act.

DiPrima went on to cite a discredited 2005 study that even the government disowned saying, “In 2005, resampling of five locations in the open space taken again this time directed and overseen by the California Department of Public Health; splits were analyzed and the Department of Public Health test results were much lower than the 1990 [sic] test results.”

But the lower results were tossed by the department as not being of much use because of the high detection level.

DiPrima went on to talk about the windmill well as if he had never repeatedly said to the commissioners at the previous planning meeting that there were no tanks at the well. “Our opponents at the last meeting said there was TCE in this well,” which is inaccurate – concerned citizens had noted it had been found in the past, not that it was currently in the well. He went on to add that preliminary results in a recent round of testing show no TCE “above 2.0 parts per billion, the reporting limit, which would subject that as a non-detect.”

Defying logic and simple science, DiPrima departed on a rhetorical odyssey explaining how where the houses are to be built, a couple of miles from the Runkle Canyon and Rocketdyne border, should show the highest signs of contamination instead of the property line bordering Area IV where huge hits of strontium-90 have recently been detected by the US EPA yards from the Runkle property.

“Keep in mind one thing,” DiPrima began. “Let’s say you have a scenario, because I’ve heard by the opponents that the water runs right through this canyon. It’s not going to stop at the middle of the hill. If it would have settled anywhere, it would have settled at the bottom of the hill on the homes that are right here. We know we’re not seeing issues here, if it’s runoff, it doesn’t stop at a chain-link fence. It keeps moving and the most exposure would have been here because remember that bridge wasn’t here for many many years so it would come down in (arroyo) area and collect. From a surface water perspective.”

Convoluted explanation aside, Runkle Canyon Creek runs down into the Arroyo Simi and not where homes are. DiPrima then went on to describe an elaborate set of surface water tests, the results of which are unknown to this reporter probably because they may not exist. The Department of Toxic Substances Control says that it only took two surface water samples, miraculously devoid of any contaminants including no arsenic at all, but nothing like what DiPrima paints.

“We came back when it was raining,” DiPrima told the commissioners, “Waited until we had a storm event where we had water running on our site and working with DTSC we said ‘don’t just test in the one spot; test it all the way to where it goes to the end because I don’t want to hear that we tested here and oh it washed down. We tested all the way down.’”

DTSC has never mentioned any such tests.

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  1. @KB Home Sucks: KB Home calls its Runkle Canyon development Arroyo Vista at the Woodlands. Look here soon for major new developments regarding Runkle Canyon which abuts Area IV of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory.

  2. I think it’s unbelievable that this company is going to be building homes near this site. I think this is a new all time low for this company. I hope there will be lots of protests. http://KB-HomeSucks.com

  3. How much radiation is in the soil in city of Chatsworth?

  4. I note, for the record, that DTSC’s employees issued their No Further Action Letter concerning Runkle Canyon during the final months BEFORE Governor Brown took office in January 2011.

    During that final month, or perhaps earlier, DTSC’s Interim Director Maziar Movassaghi apparently learned that he would not be appointed by Governor Brown as permanent Director of DTSC. In addition, during that same time period Mr. Movassaghi’s right-hand-man concerning Santa Susana Field Lab apparently learned that he would be “given a new assignment” in DTSC’s hierarchy once Governor Brown’s new DTSC Director took office. (The latter fellow was the one who “threw” his deposition in Boeing’s lawsuit against the State concerning SSFL, saying that the Legislature did not need to pass the law Boeing sought to invalidate, that the Legislature wanted to interfere with DTSC’s exercise of its discretion and that in passing the law Boeing opposed the Legislators unnecessarily ignored DTSC and pandered to everyone’s favorite expert Dan Hirsch. To use an old line, with friends like that the Legislature and the public don’t need to look for enemies.)

    I’ve looked at a lot of online DTSC Envirostor documents concerning a multitude of DTSC remediation projects since Governor Brown was inaugurated. The dates of documents posted on Envirostor make it is very clear that back in December 2010 DTSC’s senior employees could be politely characterized as a “making a mad rush” to do as many favors as possible for polluters and their environmental lawyers. The “fast and dirty” issuance of approvals by DTSC staff members in December 2010 crosses a broad spectrum of projects under DTSC’s jurisdiction.

    It’s very sad when State of California or local government employees act in a dishonorable way in protecting the public health, because what they are obviously angling for, in some cases, is a lucrative consulting gig after their “retirement” from the State’s employ. For example, the LA-Ventura Regional Water Quality Control Board’s long time Executive Director is now “in the private sector” and doing legal work for clients whose goals are the antithesis of protecting the publicly owned water supply under the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Act. And then, of course, there’s Mr. Riley.

  5. Truly gut-wrenching, this developer debacle. Comments by enviro-reporter and Jennifer are most welcome and shed light on a multi-faceted battle between good and evil, that I find just soooo compelling. Thanks guys, really– THANK YOU.

    Centex Homes on the other side of the mountain from KB suffered the same Riley intransigence a-la-mode now sadly happening simultaneously as we all speak/write. The Good Reverend has seen the mess in Dayton Canyon first hand– KB-Riley may be joining forces with Centex-Riley in order to overtake the unsuspecting public-at-large. Michael, please investigate this angle as well: 62,000,000 parts-per-billion Perchlorate is a lot of salt for junior to play in, I pity those new Dayton families…the Burn Pits are just up canyon; so is Outfall #8 in Happy Valley; and Sr-90, Cs-137, Pu-239/240, TCE, PCE, + MUCH MORE, ad infinitum! Riley has a No Further Action order in place now at both Runkle and Dayton.

    No wonder local real estate brokers covet secrecy over the truth in exposing dirty politics associated with enviromental clean-ups in the area. And with the U.S. Populated slated to grow some 25% to being more than 400 Million by mid-century 2050, the battle ahead will be an epic one, to say the least. Buckle your seatbelts, there will be fireworks in days ahead.

  6. @Jennifer K: Thank you for this comprehensive and thoughtful analysis. Do know that we are presently working on a big piece that will include what happened at the Simi Valley City Council meeting where the council, once again, mocked the community right along with KB Home’s Tom DiPrima for having the audacity to point out that the developers of this property have been trying to test the radiation and chemical contamination found by numerous and voluminous tests conducted from 1998 to 2007, tests that were ignored by the city and developer at their peril. And, unfortunately, at the peril of the possible new home buyers you speak of in detail.

    What neither the company or municipality realize is that this latest round was something other than what they thought it was. And despite the nonsense precipitated by a fauxteur illegally taping the deliberations of the Simi Valley Planning Commission, where there was a real chance at looking at the problems presented by the environmental conditions of the site which were then sublimated into anger at the offending party resulting in a unanimous vote to allow KB Home an additional five years to build (see above article), what actually transpired was something quite useful to the community: KB Home and its paid “consultants” uttered numerous factual inaccuracies that will come back to haunt them.

    This upcoming piece, with photos and videos, will be a real eye-opener, that you can count on. We’re sure that your detailed analysis of this information will be most interesting and useful. In a world of twitter-length blabber, your considered prose is invaluable and without question a must-read especially for the folks who may be impacted by the over 112 tons of strontium-90 impacted dust that construction of Runkle Canyon’s site would cause and the people who may end up buying a new home in the shadow of Rocketdyne.

  7. Assuming for argument’s sake these houses in Runkle Canyon ever get built, the presently vague state of California law allows the home builder to disclose the existence of Area IV (let alone concerns about the property itself) in one paragraph buried in the Final Subdivision Public Report for the project prepared by the California Department of Real Estate (DRE) and make no other written disclosure. It will be a DRE staff lawyer who will write a 1″ long paragraph making that disclosure, or approve disclosure language written by the home builder’s “DRE” lawyer.

    If the contamination risk at the project is highest on a newly created large mountainous common are next to Area IV (akin the the Bridle Path tract’s huge common area to the west in the same mountains) then there is even less interest, on the part of DRE to write a meaningful disclosure to new home buyers.

    DRE’s and various home builders’ practical experience shows that new home buyers RARELY read the Final Subdivision Public Report about a new home project, prepared by DRE, because they are given that report with a massive quantity of home builder generate paper work. As a result, it’s highly likely that new home buyers on the property will not be given enough knowledge to make a rational decision whether or not to purchase a new home or to decide whether buying an interest in a project with “questionable” common area is a wise move. Instead, the Final Subdivision Public Report will be shoved under the home buyers’ noses, along with a DRE form saying they have read the DRE Report. Of course, when the buyers “sign here” they are given approximately 15 separate documents to “sign here” seriatim, and the DRE Report Receipt will be buried in the pile of documents to be signed. Anyone who has bought a newly constructed home knows how the “Sign here, Sign here, Initial here, Sign here” process works at the model home complex, when administered by the builder’s sales agents.

    Of course, as a precondition to approving the Runkle Canyon project the City of Simi Valley COULD HAVE mandated a meaningful, detailed disclosure to potential home buyers of the economic and public health risks associated with owning a home (and part of HOA common area) right near and downhill from Area IV.

    Approximately 25 years ago, there was massive controversy concerning the building, by Shea Homes, of new homes bordering the Spadra Landfill which was so big it was located in both Pomona and Walnut. The city with jurisdiction over the new homes being built “next to Spadra” were required to do the following: (1) Post a blunt notice on the door of the model home complex concerning the existence nearby of the gigantic landfill; (2) Give every person who walked through the model home complex a detailed written disclosure about what went on and was going on at the Spadra Landfill; and (3) Before signing-up any buyer on home purchase documents, give every home buyer a detailed written disclosure about what went on at the Spadra Landfill, including a disclosure that the home buyers could not ‘make the Spadra Landfill stop operating or go away’, even if its noise, dust and smells from decomposition of trash bothered the home buyers.

    I actually saw the sign posted on the door of that model complex and read the disclosure provided to everyone who walked through, when I made a visit to the new home complex at Spadra as part of my work. I was quite impressed with that disclosure approach, as compared with the hidden disclosure procedure followed by the California Department of Real Estate (DRE) discussed above. That manner in which disclosure to potential new home buyers was made, concerning an obnoxious nearby land use, was the right way for local government, the home builder and the owner of the landfill to go, when the local government agency decided to let the home building near the Spadra Landfill occur.

    To me, as an ordinary home owner, the radioactive and chemical contamination sitting up in Area IV, which may ultimately be removed (releasing dirty dust into the ambient air) would be far more scary than the dust, noise and smells of a gigantic garbage dump like Spadra. Yet under California’s Subdivided Lands Act and California Department of Real Estate (DRE) Regulations, the DRE is not mandated to order new home builders to provide detailed disclosures.

    Sadly, the California Department of Real Estate (DRE) has a long history of having its Director and staff lawyers pander to the home building and real estate brokerage industry lobbyists. In fact the law firm providing “environmental lawyers” for this Runkle Canyon property has, as one of its partners, a man who was an in-house lawyer for DRE roughly 30 years ago.That DRE lawyer asked the law firm for a job, was interviews and hired, and went directly from the DRE Legal Department into employment by the law firm. Based on his online resume still handles complicated DRE matters for his law firm’s clients.

    In my opinion the chance of “DRE” or the City of Simi Valley protecting the public’s health, mental/emotional comfort and monetary home investment, by requiring actual, meaningful disclosures to new home buyers at Runkle Canyon, in the way disclosures were made to new home buyers at Spadra, is “nonexistent”.

    What’s particularly ironic is when those first “new home” buyers of houses on the Runkle Canyon property go to SELL their homes, other California Legislature mandated procedures will require those home buyers, selling “used” homes in Runkle Canyon, to make very detailed disclosures about Area IV and its potential effect on the Runkle Canyon project common area and homes in the project. That’s a homebuilder/DRE screw job of the new home buying public…new home builders do not have a serious pre-sale disclosure requirement but their “customers” do when the homes are resold.

    It’s just my personal opinion, but ASSUMING that KB (and its silent partner in Runkle Canyon, Lennar California) are 100% correct that their Runkle Canyon property is NOT contaminated with anything from the Santa Susana Field Lab, I still would not buy a home there because I would not want to bear the burden and litigation risk of making a full and true disclosure about Area IV to anyone who later bought such a home from me.

    California is a very sad, dangerous place for new home buyers. All of its statutes, regulations and case law are skewed against protecting the innocent home buyer. That, of course, is due to the lobbying and litigation by the home building and residential real estate brokerage industry.

  8. We’re still waiting for DTSC to present the CA Dept of Health risk assessment for the SSFL site and surrounding areas. And a complete EIS/EIR process to be completed.

  9. Janice Andersen

    I am no fan of development, and I am also a rabid environmentalist. I would prefer that the area remain undeveloped. End of story.

  10. Bravo Michael and Denise Anne! This is extraordinary work.

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