December 16, 2017
County of Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation
Attn: Julie Yom, Park Planner
510 South Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles, California 90020
Re: Michael Collins Comments on Santa Susana Mountains Trails Master Plan – Phase II Project
Dear Julie and Planning Division Staff;
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Santa Susana Mountains Trails Master Plan – Phase II Project (SSMTMP-PII).
As a Los Angeles County resident living in Santa Monica, it is important to me that you are successful in this endeavor without endangering public safety and “Develop a plan consistent with relevant County plans and policies” as stated in your Nov. 9, 2017 public meeting presentation.i
The SSMTMP-PII is also important to me as an environmental investigative journalist who has covered issues related to the Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL) and its surroundings since 1998. This work has appeared in newspapers and magazines as well as existing in its entirety on www.EnviroReporter.com of which I am publisher and lead reporter.
My comments concern Phase II.b and the proposed John Luker Trail which is located primarily in Dayton Canyon west of the San Fernando Valley in the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains.
These comments are backed up with source material, much of it my own which has been fact-checked and published over the years in such publications as Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly, Ventura County Reporter, Los Angeles CityBeat & ValleyBeat and other publications. All of my material from this 19 years of reporting now resides on EnviroReporter.com as we approach our third decade of SSFL-related journalism.
I do not have endnotes for your documents of the SSMTMP-PII as you already possess that material and are assumed to be familiar with it.
1. Plans to open existing Dayton Canyon-area (DC) “social trails” and the proposed trail that, in draft form, is called the “John Luker Trail” (JLT), should not be opened until completion of a full cleanup of SSFL.
2. All DC, Bell Canyon and Woolsey Canyon trail heads and staging areas should have warning signs to alert trail users of the potential dangers of chemicals in the soil, dust and water, much like the real estate warning given to nearby residents of the dangers of SSFL when property is purchased in the area.
3. The proposed “John Luker Trail” has been tentatively named for a controversial public figure without input from the public, the majority of which would object to this person being so honored after his long record of public slander, libel, racism and homophobia, all of which are document herein, as it does not conform to the standards of decency that the County of Los Angeles (County) represents. The JLT needs to be renamed or not named at all.
Much of Phase II.b and Dayton Canyon (Project Area) border and/or are downhill from Area I of SSFL which is grossly polluted. Much of this contamination has migrated down through the Project Area via effluent runoff in Dayton Canyon Creek and through dust and dirt migration to lower elevations.
The SSMTMP-PII acknowledges this: “Immediately to the west of Phase II.b, the newly announced conservation area on the Santa Susana Field Laboratory implies future opportunities to connect with that open space following a major clean-up.” [My emphasis]
No major cleanup has yet occurred though SSFL-owner Boeing has torn down some buildings as noted following. No “major clean-up” will begin for at least two years in 2019, that is if there is any major cleanup at all as the lead state agency overseeing SSFL remediation is sabotaging its own cleanup as I reported recently in Toxics agency buries Santa Susana Field Laboratory cleanup – Fuzzy environmental impact report proposes leaving lab contamination in place as Boeing produces new greenwashing website against cleanup.ii
Impediments to a full cleanup of SSFL, exposed in this article, make trail blazing in Dayton Canyon up to the SSFL property line premature and potentially hazardous to the trail blazers and subsequent users of the trail.
The SSMTMP-PII envisions constructing new trails to complete a 4.5-mile-long JLT: “This mostly new natural surface trail on private land would be an important connector that, with the completion of the proposed Rim of the Valley Trail, would connect the John Luker Trail from Dayton Canyon Road to Sage Ranch via the Rim of the Valley Trail, creating a major regional connection and alternate route for the Rim of the Valley Trail itself.”
County planners should be aware that the Rim of the Valley Trail endeavor has recently removed SSFL from its project area planning because of the contamination issues. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) “removed the Santa Susana Field Laboratory, a contaminated site located 7 miles northwest of Canoga Park where radiation leaked in the 1950s. The lab closed in 2006. Inclusion may have sparked a debate as to whether the National Park Service would be responsible for paying for cleanup.” iii
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors wrote to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), one of the parties responsible for SSFL contamination, on April 5, 2017 expressing the County’s concern that SSFL be fully cleaned up before it is released.iv
“The County of Los Angeles Board of Supervisors has noted that radioactive and chemical contaminants from the longclosed SSFL have affected the soil, air and water in nearby Los Angeles County communities for decades and have posed serious health risks, such as possible clusters of rare cancers in children and adults, in neighboring communities,” the letter said. “The County of Los Angeles therefore urges a full and timely cleanup of the site.”
That cleanup of SSFL, in this commenter’s opinion, should happen before trails are opened and/or created in the Phase II.b project area because they are all in the impact zone of the lab. Vast amounts of contamination have impacted Dayton Canyon, some of which came from controversial Boeing demolition activities captured on video in 2009 as I reported in 2012 in Dirty Deedsv:
One video shows heavy machinery in Area I of the lab roaring around destroying and grading the last of what once was the Instrument and Equipment Laboratories or IEL complex. Huge clouds of dust are launched into the air landing on any SSFL subcontractors and full-time lab workers that may have been in the area as well as drifting towards the San Fernando Valley. Most of the contaminated dust falls out on hills that drain down Happy Valley above Chatsworth into Dayton Canyon Creek and finally the Los Angeles River.
The IEL and the land around it are contaminated from decades of use of the toxins trichloroethylene, perchlorate, trichloroethane, hydrazine, perchloroethylene, hexavalent chromium, and heavy metals. [My comment emphasis]
Another 2012 EnviroReporter.com article, Up a River Without a Cleanupvi, detailed polluted effluent flowing though the Phase II.b project area:
Around 118 million gallons of Rocketdyne runoff pour into the Los Angeles River every year through Bell and Dayton canyons in Canoga Park. The gushing goo prompted a $471,000 fine from the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board in 2007 for 79 pollution violations of it slushing into the river. [My comment emphasis]
A 2006 article I wrote called The Falloutvii reported on a UCLA study that found the potential for cancer-inducing offsite exposures in Dayton Canyon:
Cohen’s report notes that “there is potential for offsite chronic exposures within 1-2 miles of SSFL which includes, but is not limited to TCE emissions from SSFL-activities via inhalation in West Hills, Bell Canyon, Dayton Canyon, and Simi Valley,” as well as “hydrazine (and oxidation product NDMA) via inhalation of emissions from SSFL in Bell Canyon and West Hills.” [My comment emphasis]
In 2005, the Los Angeles Daily News reported on a huge amount of the toxic rocket fuel oxidizer perchlorate being discovered in Dayton Canyon by a developer’s consultant:
A Centex consultant detected the rocket-fuel ingredient at levels as high as 62,000 parts per million in the sediment along Dayton Canyon Creek, about 1 1/2 miles from the lab.
That is 850 times more potent than perchlorate samples taken at Rocketdyne’s laboratory, where rocket fuel was spilled onto the soil, and it is nearly 8,000 times the level allowed for residential neighborhoods.viii [My comment emphasis]
COMMENT 1 CONCLUSION
It would not be prudent or fiscally wise to open or build trails in the effluent zone of SSFL contamination on the east side of the lab until the site is completely cleaned up. A specific provision should be inserted in the SSMTMP-PII that the Phase II.b project area trails will not be opened and/or developed until the lab is fully cleaned up as demanded by the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors.
The SSMTMP-PII Public Meeting Flyer for November 16, 2017 states that “Authorized trails help pass the liability risks and hazards of trail use from the property owner to the trail user.”
The trail user, however, should be warned of the possible hazards of use of the Phase II.b project area trails if the trail user is going to be completely liable. Indeed, real estate transactions around SSFL warn potential buyers of the hazards of buying near the lab according to this Southland Regional Association of Realtors, Inc ADDENDUM TO RESIDENTIAL PURCHASE AGREEMENTix:
3. Boeing Rocketdyne Santa Susana Facility: Buyer is aware that there is a former Rocketdyne testing facility located in the Santa Susana Mountains between Chatsworth and Simi Valley. The U.S. Department of Energy has indicated that there are some radioactive materials and industrial solvents on this site, which are in the process of clean-up. Lawsuits have been filed alleging that the Rocketdyne facility has caused environmental contamination beyond the site. Two recent studies by UCLA and the University of Michigan have indicated that residents living within two miles of this facility may have been exposed to toxic chemicals and have slightly higher cancer rates than people in communities farther from the lab. However, authors of both reports have warned the results of these studies do not conclusively show that contamination from this facility caused cancer or other illnesses in the surrounding community. The Seller and Real Estate Brokers are unable to give any definitive answers regarding potential health hazards that may result from the proximity of the property to this former testing facility. Buyer is advised to conduct an independent investigation of this matter. It is strongly recommended that Buyer have a soil test conducted of the Subject Property to determine any potential contamination. [My comment emphasis]
Every person who buys a home near SSFL is warned of the potential dangers. It has not been found to have had any measured negative effect on property values or the area’s reputation. The same holds true for warning signs for Phase II.b project area trails because otherwise the trail user will have no idea that so much highly toxic contamination has impacted the area immediately uphill.
COMMENT 2 CONCLUSION
Once the provisions of Comment 1 are met with SSFL totally cleaned up in accordance with the wishes expressed in the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors’ letter of April 5, 2017, then trail openings and building will only then commence. Each one of the 4 (four) Phase II.b project area trailheads and 5 (five) staging facilities should have warning signs. These signs should match other signs there and advise trail users that they are libel for anything that transpires on the land. The signs should also explicitly state that the trails are next to and/or connect to SSFL which leaked chemical contamination, including trichloroethylene and perchlorate, off the lab.
A significant number of people in Los Angeles that I am aware of who care about SSFL and SSFL-related issues that didn’t know about the SSMTMP-PII were outraged when they found out that there was a 4.5-mile-long set of trails to be named the “John Luker Trail” (or JLT). You may receive comments from them at the last minute as are mine. I only found out about the SSMTMP-PII and the Phase II.b project area three days ago.
How this JLT idea came to fruition without awareness of Luker’s history is mystifying as any john luker ssfl Google searchx would show. There on the first page of the search is a Sep 1, 2016 EnviroReporter.com article called Dept. of Energy secretly funding front group to sabotage its own Santa Susana Field Lab cleanupxi and a December 12, 2012 piece entitled Operation Astoturfxii.
The 2016 article exposed Luker being part of a secret $34,100 grant from DOE to apparently help Luker and anti-cleanup opponents fighting against full remediation which would save DOE, Boeing and NASA hundreds of millions of dollars. From the article regarding a talk Luker gave opposing the SSFL cleanup:
DOE’s grantee went on for an interminable and oft-time surreal 70 minutes, barking at anyone who dared interrupt him. It went from weird to worse, now courtesy of the American taxpayer via the DOE. “In any case, I talked to Kamara [Sams, Boeing representative] earlier yesterday and they’re going to publish a map that shows where contamination is in the Southern Buffer Zone and what levels so people can see what they’re walking through,” Luker said without a trace of irony. [My comment emphasis]
As bizarre as that sounded, the article documented shed even more light on this person who has alienated so many people in the community in and around the SSMTMP-PII area:
Luker’s say-anything-mean-nothing Trumpian hucksterism is bewildering even to the seasoned CAG observer.
Oft times appearing disturbed to this reporter who listened to the August 17 CAG meeting via a cell phone set on a chair by Bonnie Klea, Luker would periodically shout at the phone assuming that this reporter was on it, calling me “Mikey” at one point amidst rants detailing his lobbying efforts which have included State Senator Fran Pavley (D-District 27).
“Did you get enough?” Luker bellowed into the cell phone. “Yeah, DID YOU GET ENOUGH? What do you think, Bonnie? Michael you got enough to trash me again?”
True to form, though, the truth inevitably tumbles from one of DOE’s new grant recipients including Luker himself. By the end of the meeting, he became more introspective speaking to no one in particular.
“I find myself falling into these fallacies and it’s really easy to,” Luker said quietly. “It’s really easy to attack [this reporter] instead of the data and that’s one of the big problems I have with this stuff.
Now one of the big problems many in the SSFL community have, myself included, is the County actually naming a trail after Luker. The 2012 Operation Astroturf article detailed Luker’s public metamorphosis from cleanup advocate to a greenwashing astroturfer hell-bent on destroying the cleanup.
How could this information have escaped SSMTMP-PII and the Phase II.b project area planners? As shown, a simple Google search would have revealed this just one search results page in. A deeper search would have brought county planners to my 2016 article Critics question safety of Boeing’s Santa Susana Field Lab hikesxiii which read, in part:
Odd that Luker would question our veracity and then not confirm the exact hiking route. Luker says on his Facebook page that he has personally led 1,000 people through SSFL and the SBZ. Surely he and Sams know the way the hikers are taking – and they should know the numbers on the high radiation, volatile organic compounds, heavy metals, PCBs and dioxins in the Southern Buffer Zone that EnviroReporter.com has found. Because it’s Boeing’s own data. [My comment emphasis]
The preceding shows that Luker has had no compunction leading the unwary through contaminated lands he deems safe, which is a strong argument against naming a trail after him. The following passage, from the same article, shows Luker vocalizing a racist stereotype:
“[I]f you get three Indians in a room you’re going to have a fight,” Luker said at a January 21, 2013 meeting about the proposed Rim of the Valley National Park with Gary Polakovic and Bill Bowling in the audience. “Pretty much I’ve seen that to be true.” [My comment emphasis]
Pomposity and fabrication are not good characteristics one would envision the County of Los Angeles honoring. Wrapping up his talk where he insulted Native Americans, he claimed that he would actually clean SSFL to the highest level himself:
“I will clean to background.”
There was a time when Luker seemed to understand the severity of the contamination at SSFL and around it presenting himself, somewhat pompously, as pro-cleanup. My 2009 article Runkle Rousingxiv quotes him addressing the Simi Valley City Council during a Runkle Canyon development community meeting:
“Runkle Ranch is going to be built adjacent to the sodium burn pit. I don’t know if you guys know what the sodium burn pit is or was. If you did, I think you’d think twice about this. Based on my research, they took primary reactor core coolant – liquid sodium – pumped it into a pond on the back forty and just let it burn off. The resulting fallout blew in all directions and it has contaminated a wide area up there. That includes Runkle Ranch. If you found any strontium-90, cesium-137, plutonium-238, uranium-235 or any other constituents of chemicals and or rads from this property; the combination is deadly. And all you’re going to need is from three to five years from now a case retinoblastoma to be developed in this development, and I’ll be back here with that child’s mother to address you again.”
By the time Runkle Canyon started to be graded and built, Luker had adopted a different tact at a meeting of the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) which is overseeing the SSFL cleanup: insult mothers and fathers at government meetings as I documented in 2014 in Truth or Scare?xv:
A similar DTSC scoping meeting took place in Simi Valley December 14 , attracting more improbable anti-cleanup tales along with insults. “Most of the people talking here today are just ranting and raving,” said John C. Luker III.
That certainly did not describe people such as Arline Matthews, who lost a son to a radiation-related cancer she thinks could have been caused by manmade radiation at Rocketdyne.
“Bobby was a champion runner from Chatsworth High and every organ of his body was perfect,” Matthews said after Luker was admonished by the DTSC moderator to keep his language respectful. “A perfect specimen. Bobby died of brain cancer and his son developed leukemia. [My comment emphasis]
By 2017, jettisoning the truth and shedding all shame, Luker upped his anti-cleanup rhetoric as I documented in Brandeis-Bardin’s Toxic Denialxvi:
“If there was the remotest chance that there actually is cancer, somebody’s got to start doing some soil testing because the contamination is not at SSFL,” Luker said without the slightest trace of irony. “So we have to start looking at, maybe, school yards, public parks where we could do the testing and sampling and see if there’s anything there.”
Granted, a person is allowed to have his or her opinions, but when that person is quietly given the honor of a to-be-constructed 4.5 mile long trail named after that person, they should at least not be given to wild insults, homophobic jokes and libel on various public platforms such as Facebook. John Luker has done all this and in the SSMTMP-PII the JLT seems a fait accompli with no public input.
That would be an outrage. But without providing you this oft-times distasteful information, the Planning Division and the Board of Supervisors would not have enough facts in hand to make a considered decision to remove Luker’s name from any trail or other feature within the project area. Hence, more facts for you folks to consider.
Luker has used Facebook to vent, libel and share his like of the odd homophobic joke. On Luker’s June 12, 2014 Facebook pagexvii is his ‘liking’ and sharing on his ‘timeline’ a homophobic joke showing a photo of out-gay man Sir Ian McKellan with the text “A wizard walks into a gay bar… … and disappears with a poof!”
Granted that an anti-gay joke isn’t that serious; what is serious is the County naming a trail after the man who made it. Would the Chair of the County Board of Supervisors countenance such a decision? At least the public will have one last chance to ask her if the JLT name isn’t changed or dropped before final approval of the SSMTMP-PII.
Sounding like then President-elect Trump on Facebook November 28, 2016xviii, Luker leveled these shots:
John Luker-The two articles from the EnviroReporter are fake news! They attack me personally so I have a good idea of their veracity. Most of the sources you quote have the same earmarks as Mr Collins’ pieces.
I’m used to looking for red flags… I’ve been attacked repeatedly by forces making money off of fear. [My comment emphasis]
Here’s another example on his Facebook page May 19, 2017xix where he slams us with all manner of libelous nonsense:
“If you believe chemtrails are a plot to turn America gay, if you are an anti-vaxxer, if you believe that SSFL is poisoning everyone in a 20 mile radius… DON’T reply to this post… I’ll laugh at you.
Yes, this is what is destroying Americas [sic] faith in their institutions… Dan Hirsch, RCC, Cindy Gortner, Michael Collins, Denise Duffield, you are all complicit!”
Luker’s latest attempt to disrupt a public event in an effort to smear pro-cleanup residents reached a zenith, even for him, at a public meeting of DTSC to discuss the Programmatic Environmental Impact Report for SSFL in Chatsworth October 7, 2017 which I attended and witnessedxx. Luker told a DTSC public participation person that a woman at the meeting was harassing him and to call the police. Two LAPD units quickly arrived, interviewed Luker, the woman and the DTSC person and found no problem. They told Luker to leave as the best solution. Luker left but not without disrupting the event and adding a sense of trepidation into the proceedings.
But Luker was not done. He took to Facebook October 8xxi:
October 8 at 7:39am ·
Ok, time to vent… I was threatened yesterday. I was told “I was going to get what I deserved.” Then that person followed me around taking photos of me…
This was at a DTSC meeting about SSFL. This person intimidated me until I left. I asked DTSC to call the cops, they did. The cops said this person did not break the law so there was nothing they could do…
SSFL will never get cleaned up. There is an atmosphere of hatred and conflict that has been stirred up by people who are making a very good living off NOT cleaning this place up. Dan Hirsch, Denise Duffield, Michael Collins, Consumer Watchdog and PSRLA all have a financial and political interest in keeping this level of anger and, now, violence, at a fever pitch.
There is NO way a reasoned, logical, civil discussion can take place.
I’m very tired of it. [My comment emphasis]
Luker went on in this libelous fashion further along in the Facebook thread. “And how will that help quiet the people with personality disorders that are threatening my life?” Luker said in response to a commenter’s suggestion. “I AM in REAL physical danger RIGHT NOW!”
The only danger John Luker is in is the possibility he’ll be sued for these kinds of libelous remarks. The real danger the community faces is if Luker’s anti-cleanup cabal succeeds in derailing the cleanup of the old Rocketdyne lab. Adding his name to a trail does not seem like wise policy and should be reversed.
COMMENT 3 CONCLUSION
Under the SSMTMP-PII “Project Objectives” it says “Develop a plan consistent with relevant County plans and policies.” Naming a prospective trail after John Luker is not consistent with the policies of the County against defamation, racism and homophobia.
Under the SSMTMP-PII “Benefits of Trails Master Planning” it says “Attract or obtain funding for trail development and/or maintenance” I assert that naming a prospective trail after as controversial a public figure as John Luker will hurt attempts to get funding for anything having to do with him.
Luker has publicly harassed this reporter, my wife and community members including mothers with children with rare cancers like leukemia calling them “screaming harpies.” His behavior is contrary to standards of public decency. I have reported on and witnessed this person behaving and acting in a manner that I do not believe reflects the values of this county for nearly a decade.
Naming a trail after Luker would be a travesty once you consider the information presented here. It would be an insult to not only the mothers of children stricken with rare illnesses they blame on SSFL, but to the people who have fought for decades for SSFL cleanup and, not the least, to the County of Los Angeles as well.
Thank you again for this opportunity to comment on the SSMTMP-PII.
Santa Monica, California
i County of Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation, Public Meeting Santa Susana Mountains Trails Master Plan – Phase II, (Stevenson Ranch, CA: Stevenson Ranch Library, November 9, 2017), P 12/32, http://www.santasusanatrailsplan.org/files/pdf/SSMTMP-PII PublicMtgPresentation_20171109.pdf
ii “Toxics agency buries Santa Susana Field Laboratory cleanup,” EnviroReporter.com, October 4, 2017, https://www.enviroreporter.com/2017/10/toxics-agency-buries-santa-susana-field-laboratory-cleanup/
iii “Rim of the Valley: New plan emerges to add nearly 191K acres to Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area,” Los Angeles Daily News, October 18, 2017, http://www.dailynews.com/2017/10/18/rim-of-the-valley-new-plan-emerges-to-add-nearly-191k-acres-to-santa-monica-mountains-recreation-area/
v “Dirty Deeds,” EnviroReporter.com, December 11, 2012,
vi “Up a River Without a Cleanup,” EnviroReporter.com, December 11, 2012,
vii “The Fallout,” Los Angeles CityBeat/ValleyBeat, February 16, 2006,
viii “TOXINS FOUND 1 1/2 MILES FROM SANTA SUSANA LAB,” Los Angeles Daily News, July 12, 2005,
xi “Dept. of Energy secretly funding front group to sabotage its own Santa Susana Field Lab cleanup,” EnviroReporter.com, September 1, 2016,
xii “Operation Astroturf,” EnviroReporter.com, December 12, 2012,
xiii “Critics question safety of Boeing’s Santa Susana Field Lab hikes,” EnviroReporter.com, July 13, 2016,
xiv “Runkle Rousing,” EnviroReporter.com, August 5, 2009,
xv “Truth or Scare?” EnviroReporter.com, March 6, 2014,
xvi “Brandeis-Bardin’s Toxic Denial,” EnviroReporter.com, April 6, 2017
xvii John Luker’s Facebook page, June 12, 2014, homophobic joke
xviii John Luker’s Facebook page screenshot; November 28, 2016
xix John Luker’s Facebook page screenshot; May 19, 2016
[December 31, 2017: Updated for typographic errors in original comments.]