“Not only was Kleinfelder’s work ‘cursory,’ it was most likely rigged,” said Parfrey. “Their methods for testing for radionuclides were probably phony.” Parfrey pointed to the SEIR’s admission that it used Rocketdyne’s methods for testing suspect groundwater. A 1989 report by Rocketdyne subcontractor Groundwater Resources Consultants Inc. (GRC) noted how high concentrations of radionuclides in water can be lowered. “It is likely that high gross alpha and beta (radiation) activity is correlated with high sediment content in samples,” the report stated. “Following collection of samples in June, Rocketdyne contacted Dr. George Uyesugi of the California Department of Health Services Radiation Laboratory in Berkeley for direction in handling samples collected from groundwater monitor wells with high sediment content. Dr. Uyesugi suggested that upon receipt at the laboratory, samples containing large amounts of sediment should be allowed to settle, then decanted. Analyses would then be performed on the decanted material. The technique of decanting high sediment samples was implemented in July, however, [it] was replaced by filtering in the current sampling program in order to generate more consistent, comparable water quality data.”
“All samples collected during July were decanted prior to analyses,” the report continued. “Some samples were also filtered.” Bewildering as this data may seem, the information clearly seems to suggest that tests of the Rocketdyne groundwater may have been machinated in order to hide the possibility that SSFL’s groundwater may be seriously contaminated by radioactive substances.
Parfrey becomes visibly agitated when discussing the decanting of groundwater at Rocketdyne prior to radioactive analysis. “If Washington Mutual’s subcontractors followed the same procedures that Rocketdyne did, as the SEIR plainly states, then we can deduce that the results are meaningless. And when you are dealing with radionuclides that could be a deadly mistake. But it’s hard to tell since it’s been so damn hard trying to get information from the SEIR about this.”
Obtaining the SEIR’s information has been hard to get in general. When the 4,000 page report, weighing 56 pounds, came out in September, it was available in hard copy for $1,000. Public agencies, organizations and individuals who submitted substantive comments on the Public Draft Supplemental EIR were sent free CD-Roms of the SEIR but the discs were defective and missing vast chunks of information. Senior planner Hawkins then sent out a letter informing the recipients that they could call him or e-mail him for a new disc. However, the e-mail address in the letter was faulty. Then the second batch of CD-ROM’s finally were sent and they were faulty as well. Over a month ago, this reporter called Hawkins and requested a disk. Hawkins said that he hadn’t any more but if I sent him twelve dollars he would send me one. I sent him the twelve dollars on Nov. 7. I still haven’t received the CD-ROM and have had to rely on numerous sources to get the parts of the truncated SEIR to report on this story.
A Petition for a Writ of Mandate and Complaint for Damage was filed in late November by the City of Calabasas and by Westlake-based attorney Ed Masry, representing five individuals, against the County of Ventura over these lack-of-information shenanigans. The suit charged that the county had violated California’s Brown Act that holds, in part, that all evidence must be available at public meetings for them to be legal and requested that the court postpone the Dec. 10 County Board of Supervisors meeting when the supervisors were set to begin deliberations on the SEIR. City of Calabasas Special Council Katherine Stone pointed out that Ventura’s planning commission accompanied Washington Mutual officials to the Ahmanson Ranch site, without accompanying folks from the public, and were presented a pleasant presentation of how beneficial the ranch development scheme would be by the developers. On Dec. 6, Judge Harry Walsh threw out the suit saying that the supervisors could remedy the situation themselves. “How they are going to do that is beyond me,” Stone told the Reporter. “Judge Walsh’s decision is perplexing.”
Despite problems getting a complete SEIR in a timely fashion, the Reporter was able to unearth some disquieting data. An estimated 43 million cubic yards of soil, the equivalent of 55 Rose Bowls of dirt, would be excavated over the eight years needed to complete the project, according to Kleinfelder. This will release 23,328 tons of dust into the air. Kleinfelder’s sampling of the soil used Rocketdyne’s polluted dirt as ‘control’ specimens to compare against and still found that Ahmanson Ranch earth was hotter than Rocketdyne’s. Some Ahmanson soil samples contain double the amount of Radium 226, Thorium 230, Uranium 235 and nearly double the amount of Uranium 233, Uranium 234 and Uranium 238. “Under EPA guidelines, Ahmanson soil is from several times to hundreds of times hotter than what is acceptable,” said Parfrey. “Radioactive Potassium 40 was 415 to 1,150 times over what is allowable and could result in a cancer risk of one in 869. The project would make airborne thousands of tons of radioactive dust, which could gravely impact the surrounding area.”
Community activist, Elizabeth Crawford, uncovered much of the nasty details regarding Ahmanson Ranch’s dirt and groundwater. The 43-year-old mother of three finds the whole process leading up to the final vote next week perplexing and perverse. “When I first got involved in this issue, I felt that the responsible powers that be would be responsive to the data,” she said. “Only some were but, thankfully, they are from the EPA, the Department of Toxic Substances Control and the city of Los Angeles. If Ventura’s supervisors OK this project, they can expect a landslide of lawsuits that will make Washington Mutual wish they had never heard of Ahmanson Ranch.”
Crawford has worked closely with Rally to Save Ahmanson Ranch, the group headed by HBO CEO Chris Albrecht, actor Martin Sheen and actor, director and children’s advocate, Rob Reiner. “I am appalled that Washington Mutual will not do the appropriate testing to determine the extent of the contamination on Ahmanson Ranch,” Reiner told the Reporter. “Moving forward on the Ahmanson Ranch project without further testing is irresponsible and puts the public’s health and safety at risk. Ventura County and Washington Mutual have an obligation to determine the extent of the contamination on Ahmanson and to determine its source. We are talking about the health of children and families. This issue cannot be dismissed so easily when the public’s health and safety is at risk. Ventura County must take the time now to get all the information before moving forward.”
Pausing under an ancient oak on Ahmanson Ranch, Parfrey voices strong agreement with Reiner. “This faulty SEIR doesn’t adequately address the health risks that this project could cause,” Parfrey said. “California Attorney General Bill Lockyer has already threatened to sue Ventura over the possible pollution problems. The city and county of Los Angeles are planning to litigate if the Ventura Board of Supervisors OKs the project. Governor Davis has expressed his opposition to the plan and his administration’s desire to buy the land to preserve as open space. And that’s just what should happen. Ahmanson Ranch should become a park for this and future generations to enjoy. It would be perfectly safe as a park.”
Ahmanson Ranch seems to be a metaphor for the challenges facing Southern California. We need new space for housing, as this reporter was told by the former Mayor of Los Angeles, Richard Riordan. We need new space for folks trying to make a living servicing those people who could actually afford those prospective manses in the pristine hills that are Ahmanson Ranch. But at what cost? Shall it be polluting the environment because a big bank needs to make its nickel back or should it be in the interest of the people of Ventura County and the San Fernando Valley? The decision that the Ventura County Board of Supervisors makes this month will last long after all of us are forgotten.
Michael Collins is an award-winning investigative journalist specializing in environmental issues. He has reported extensively on Rocketdyne for Los Angeles magazine and the L.A. Weekly newspaper since 1998. Collins was recently elected to become a Director of the Greater Los Angeles Press Club for a two-year term beginning in January.