How Safe is Safe Enough? Toxic Cleanup at Development Site Dominates Council Meet

Published : Tuesday, April 30, 2019 | 4:44 AM

Two City Councilmembers again called on Mayor Terry Tornek to bring a controversial housing project set to be built on a formal naval weapons testing site back before the City Council.

“I sent a letter asking that we agendize this topic so the residents will have a chance to weigh in and the City Council will have a chance to debate this item,” said Councilmember Gene Masuda, who represents the neighborhood where the project will be built. “I am asking that we agendize this item so the Council can have a discussion.”

Councilmember Victor Gordo also called on Tornek to bring the project back to the Council.

“There have been numerous concerns with DTSC [California Department of Toxic Substances Control] that have been raised,” said Councilmember Victor Gordo. “This matter we hoped would have been agendized. The problem is by making it an information item, it predetermines the outcome.”

Monday’s item was only to inform the public and City Council on the latest steps taken by the City. Information items do not result in votes to take action.

Critics claim that the testing for dangerous contaminants at the site has not been sufficient.

The DTSC has extended the deadline to review the work plan to May 14.

The proposed mixed-use project at Space Bank Mini Storage facility site on East. Foothill Boulevard would include 550 apartment units, subterranean and above-ground parking structures, landscaping and nearly 10,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space. Sixty-nine of the units would be affordable housing.

The site was bought by Caltech, which used it for research into jet propulsion in the 1930s and maintained it during World War II, The U.S. Navy purchased the property from Caltech in 1945 and used it for classified projects and torpedo testing.

A recent environmental assessment, and other on-site environmental tests, indicate the presence of “hazardous materials in the soil and soil vapor, and potentially in groundwater beneath the property.

“I think the site has been reviewed for a long time and I think there’s a pretty good understanding of what the dangers are in the site,” Tornek told Pasadena Now on Monday afternoon. “I think that DTSC has vast experience, probably more than anybody else in the country in terms of how to clean these sites up.”

About 30 local residents spoke at Monday’s meeting.

“All of us support affordable housing. My problem with this [the site at 3200 E. Foothill Blvd.] is it is not safe and I say that as an expert,” said Kristin Shrader-Frechette, a Pasadena resident and professor of biological science at Notre Dame University. “The problem right now is what you contemplated and what is playing out are two different things. The developer admits that cleaning up the site post-construction could post increased cancer risk for up to a year.”

According to Shrader-Frechette, the site may contain unknown toxins since it was used both for manufacturing and testing of classified projects.

Shrader-Frechette said one citation revealed that Polaris missiles were made on the site. Polaris missiles contained nuclear warheads and were launched from submarines. It is not known if nuclear materials were used on site.

As of Monday night more than 650 people had signed an online petition opposing the project.

“On January 29, 2019, DTSC issued a ‘finding’ that, after only partial site testing and a quick cleanup of 12 ‘hotspots,’ the development would have no ‘significant’ harmful health ‘impacts,’” the petition reads. “Full cleanup would cost the developer only $1-2 million more. The developer admits that it is unknown whether the public will be exposed to health risks, because most site carcinogens will remain in place.”

But there is also concern over what might happen if the developer does not move forward.

“In my experience DTSC is extremely thorough in its investigations,” said City Commissioner Tim Wendler. “If the project does not go forward we are stuck with a site that is still toxic and we don’t get the 60 affordable units we need.”

The City announced at Monday’s meeting it has retained environmental consulting firm Alta Environmental to review the Draft Removal Action Workplan and provide comments to the DTSC by the May 14th deadline. The City will post the consultant’s report on its website.

“It’s essential that the future Pasadena residents who will reside in this project are living in a safe environment, and their health is protected from any impacts of materials onsite or in the groundwater,” said Councilmember Margaret McAustin.

“The DTSC has jurisdiction over the cleanup, but I think the City’s engagement of a consultant with expertise in this area to provide us with additional assurances as to the adequacy of the DTSC work and fulfillment of the Remedial Action Work Plan imposed on the developer will give us an extra level of certainty as to the actions planned and properly undertaken to remediate the site.”

blog comments powered by Disqus