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This angered residents like the Reverend John Southwick of the Radiation Rangers. Southwick has fought for a full and believable characterization of the creek and other areas of Runkle Canyon since 2006.

“Since when is lying to the commissioners an acceptable way of doing business?” Rev. Southwick asked the commission. “It just is not right. You asked, Commissioner Bibb, what it is that we would like. We would like to see a supplemental EIR. You get two years to do it. Obviously they’re going to willing to pay for it. If it comes back clean I’m willing to be the liaison between KB Home and the city. I’ll get some other folks that can be trusted.”

When it came to trusting someone at this meeting, the commissioners certainly put their confidence in Dewey Runkle a direct descendant of the first Runkle to purchase the property in 1913. Runkle spoke to the issue of the tanks

“We used it for cattle storage water,” Runkle told the commissioners. “The windmill only pumps a little bit at a time so it pumps in, it comes in, goes in to the tanks and then the bigger tank it goes in and when it fills it there’s a hose that went over to the little one to fill it and then, of course, on the bottom there’s pipes going over to the water trough that would be below it.”

Very convincing testimony. Yet photos clearly show that there are no pipes coming out of the bottom of these tanks, though they run alongside it unconnected, as one would expect if they actually were used for watering cattle. They only are open at the top.

Nonetheless, commissioner Scott Santino took this statement, which was either incorrectly remembered or a factual inaccuracy, as gospel truth when he made his key decision to vote for the extension.

“I thought that the tanks were the smoking gun,” Santino said. “To have Mr. Runkle come up here tonight and say ‘Yeah, my family put them up there.’ This is the owner of the property. This is Mr. Runkle. This isn’t his third removed nephew. This is the man so when I saw him my jaw dropped to have him answer my personal question ‘what were the tanks for?’ ‘They were store the water. They were to feed our cows. I could see the trough there. I have to tell you that was impactful to me to hear the man who has been on that property, what the family has owned it [since] 1914. So for me, I haven’t seen anything to preclude this going forward at this point.”

Certainly not the facts – Santino claimed he had climbed all over the tanks in a jaunt up to the windmill well with Commissioner Rice courtesy of DiPrima. Even with a little flashlight and camera, somehow Santino, who claimed to be a hydrologist, missed the fact that the tanks have no way to let the water out once it’s put in save for sucking it out with a tube, a technique most well known as the way to siphon a gas tank.

“The first thing I know about hydraulics is if you’re going to inject a pressurized system into a pressurized system, this motor better be stronger than that motor and there is no motor on the tanks,” Santino said. “It’s a well, an old style well that’s driven off of the wind and it’s still functional. It still goes up and down. Whether it pumps water, I can’t tell you but the point being when I looked at all piping I thought, I was thinking ‘What would be the purpose? Why would somebody fill up this tank with some kind of chemical, a contaminate, to put down the well. I got to be honest. Just pull the plug on the tank and drain on the grass. It would be easier.”

DiPrima’s biggest gamble was to bring the former DTSC Runkle Canyon and Rocketdyne project director Norman Riley to the podium. Riley, who served in that capacity from April 2007 until October 2009, was the controversial figure greeted enthusiastically by the community at first but Riley was soon became at odds with longtime activists for his perceived toadying to SSFL lab owner Boeing as well as KB Home (See “Riley’s Revenge,” September 15, 2009).

Yet despite being sacked nearly three years ago, and having nothing to do with the subsequent 2010 testing, Riley imparted a litany of factual inaccuracies all the while presenting himself as if he still working for DTSC. Riley also falsely claimed that he himself had signed the No Further Action notice, when in fact he had been ‘retired’ for over a year when the NFA was inked. The pomposity of Riley’s false portrayal worked perfectly with the commissioners who hung on his every word.

“We don’t simply take the information and take it at face value,” Riley intoned. “We look behind the data. We ask whether the samples were properly collected, whether they were properly preserved, whether they were properly tested and whether the results are therefore believable.”

Riley became less ‘believable’ as he went on, even as commissioners started shifting in their seats. Indeed, Riley was reading from prepared text meaning that his misuse of the present tense was no mistaken misunderstanding of English grammar.

“Well, we DTSC [sic] did some additional testing in an effort to confirm whether those results were real or whether they were not. We purposely, intentionally went to locations where we thought we’d get the highest results, locations where the high results came from in 1999. No high results were found.”

But Riley went nowhere with DTSC to do additional testing because he already was long gone from DTSC. The vengeful retired DTSC man saved the best of the worst for last.

In the video to the left, Norman Riley testifies at the Simi Valley Planning Commission meeting on June 20, repeatedly presenting himself as if he still worked at DTSC and stating that he issued the NFA determination (minute 14:58) though he was no longer at the agency at the time it was issued.

“DTSC is satisfied that the property is safe for unrestricted residential use that’s why I issued a No Further Action determination,” Riley said, knowing full well he didn’t sign the NFA – DTSC’s actual Runkle Canyon Project Manager Mark Malinowski did. “We don’t do that sort of thing carelessly and we certainly don’t do it because we are controlled by entities like KB Home.” (*Update – Riley was more clear about who he worked for at the subsquent July 16 City Council meeting, stating, “I am here tonight on behalf of Runkle Canyon LLC.”)

Again, the royal ‘we’ indicating continued employment by DTSC when, in fact, KB Home arranged for Riley to come to Simi Valley to spread spout factual inaccuracies to the planning commission long after he had left DTSC.

Were these “factual inaccuracies,” a term coined by KB Home attorney Preston Brooks at a previous planning commission meeting, or was it flat out lying enabled by the fact that Riley wasn’t sworn in? Whatever it was, Riley was not to be outdone by DiPrima as KB Home came down the home stretch in their response to comments of the public, including this reporter’s brief words to the commission.

“I’ve been accused many times of lying tonight,” DiPrima said. “In fact I heard Mr. Collins say that we denied access, Runkle Canyon LLC denied access to the Regional Water Quality Control Board and he [Collins] never lies. In 2004, we didn’t even own the property, we didn’t even know anything about the property.”

As can be heard on the city’s recording of the event, I never made such a claim. DiPrima spun this out of thin air with no basis in truth or reality. DiPrima also resorted to twisting the words of Malinowski as he pointed at this reporter: “The opponents have reached out – I have an email from Mark Malinowski – to the opponents actually saying ‘we’ve consulted with USEPA and we see no reason to rescind the NFA.’”

While true Malinowski consulted with USEPA about the new radiological and chemical concerns regarding Runkle Canyon, the federal agency gave neither a thumbs up or thumbs down. Indeed, a source close to USEPA told EnviroReporter.com July 15 that the agency was to maintain a “hands off” stance towards this latest round of debate over whether KB Home should be granted a five-year extension.

KB Home and DiPrima’s extraordinary efforts to sway the Planning Commission were aided by amateur filmmaker and activist Adam Salkin, who assembled a camera-toting crew and secretly wired the dais with microphones for sound without informing the commissioners. That’s against California law.

When the commissioners realized that their private conversations with each other had been covertly recorded, several of them went understandably ballistic and subsequently voted unanimously to approve the extension.

As the public part of the meeting closed and the floor was open for the Simi Valley Planning Commission to makes its decision, it became clear just how extensive and damaging Salkin’s intrusion into the Runkle Canyon issue was for the residents of Simi Valley. Salkin’s repeated attempts to secretly film the commissioners were laid bare as was the harm done to the public process by these illegal activities.

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10 Comments

  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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