Council Changes Its Toxic Site Wish List for the State, Just Before Deadline

Amended comments letter contains new recommendations, including full soil and water testing before any construction begins

Published : Tuesday, May 14, 2019 | 5:09 AM

The Pasadena City Council on Monday made important changes to a proposed letter from City Manager Steve Mermell to the State’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) which officially lists the City’s positions and questions about the cleanup of a toxic East Pasadena site.

The DTSC’s deadline for receiving public input on how to clean up the site is May 14. A 550-unit mixed-use development is planned for the location, at 3500 East Foothill Boulevard.

After debate, the Council agreed to amend the original letter submitted by Mermell.

The amended letter includes new cleanup recommendations by Councilmembers Gene Masuda and Victor Gordo, along with the six recommendations originally proposed by Mermell.

The City’s official comments are in response to the DTSC’s Draft Removal Action Workplan, which will eventually be crafted into a final site cleanup workplan for the developers, the Trammell Crow Company.

Mike Cassidy, vice president, and Jonathan Barkman, senior project manager, representatives of Alta Environmental Consulting—hired by the City to review its recommendations—agreed with the City’s original letter, and also commented on the new recommendations.

Councilmember Masuda began the Council discussion by saying that he wanted the letter to recommend that the DTSC require nothing less than full pre-construction water and soil testing on the site by the developers.

“Where is the groundwater testing?” he asked the Council. “We need strong wording to make sure there is full testing of the site.”

Councilmember Gordo also took issue with a DTSC memo which said that there may be “technical impractability” with achieving remediation to “unrestricted levels,” because of money or time restraints.

“I want to see some discussion on that,” he said.

The new recommendations for the DSTC letter eventually included a full analysis of the “technical impractabilities” of achieving “unrestricted levels” of cleanup.

Gordo also requested that the City ask DTSC why a full Removal Action Plan (RAP) was not being required, as opposed to the Remedial Action Workplan (RAW). The difference between the two is that a RAP’s are more costly and robust thorough toxic removals, whereas RAW’s are geared more towards shorter-term remedial solutions.

In a discussion of possible land use controls on the site, Gordo also asked whether or not using a “slurry cap,” a concrete filling of excavations, constituted a land use control, and also asked that the letter request an analysis of any land use controls, along with an additional analysis of the total costs of remediation for the “life cycle” of the project.

Finally, Gordo—after a testy exchange with Vice-Mayor Tyron Hampton, who said he was “saying the same damn thing over and over again’—asked that the letter request an analysis of the difference in property values for cleanup sites that were “fully remediated,” as compared to those which were not.

Brad Cox, Senior Managing Director for Trammell Crow Company, also appeared before the Council, reassuring them that the company would follow all the recommendations of the City and the DTSC.

‘We’ve spent $250 million already,” he said. ‘Why would we not?”

Last July the City Council, with the exceptions of Hampton, Gordo and Masuda, approved the Space Bank project to be a mixed use development, requiring the demolition of 29 existing structures on approximately 8.53 acres; construction of eight separate residential and mixed-use buildings, with subterranean and above-ground parking structures, and landscaping. The proposed development would include a total of 550 apartment units and 9,800 square feet of retail and restaurant space.

According to a Planning Department staff report, the site was used for weapons research and development from the 1940s through the 1970s, primarily by the U.S. Navy. Following the Navy use, the site was used as a mini-storage facility and space for commercial and manufacturing businesses.

The staff report also noted that historical use of the project site for research, testing, and assembly of torpedoes and other weapon systems has generated the presence of hazardous materials.

In April, the Mayor sent a letter to DTSC requesting an extension of the public comment period until July 30, 2019. DTSC subsequently extended the comment period, but only to May 14th, hence the rush by the Council to complete the letter for delivery to DTSC offices by Tuesday.

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