Local Activists Indicate They Are 'Lawyering Up' for Potential Spacebank Site Cleanup Legal Battle

Published : Monday, May 13, 2019 | 11:30 AM

Screenshot of GoFundMe site launched to raise money for a retainer for attorney Mitchell Tsai.

Although there is as of yet no final decision from the State on how the Spacebank Mini Storage property is to be cleansed of toxic waste, a newly organized opposition is apparently lawyering up in case that final plan does not include their demands.

A 550-unit mixed-use development has been proposed for the 3200 East Foothill Blvd. site, but the grounds must first be remediated of the toxins deposited there over decades of U.S. Naval weapons testing at the location.

Some of the opposition to the project has coalesced into a group called Stop Toxic Housing in Pasadena (STHP).

The group is led by environmental scientist and university professor Kristin Shrader-Frechette, corporate campaign researcher Gary Smith, and Tina Smith, a member of the Pasadena Unified School District Parent-Teachers Association Board.

In a May 10 email to supporters the group claimed a local environmental attorney, with a stint at the U.S. Department of Justice under his belt, Mitchell Tsai, had agreed to take its case.

The email credited the group’s, “hard work, dedication and care for the community” in seeking out Tsai and getting his agreement, which it portrayed as a “huge victory.”

Tsai was more circumspect about the possible relationship. “I have been approached,” he told Pasadena Now, “but nothing has been confirmed.”

In a brief interview Sunday, Tsai acknowledged that he was unfamiliar with some of the details of the Space Bank issue, including a letter from City Manager Steve Mermell to the DTSC detailing the City’s requests for pre-construction cleanup and mitigation of environmental issues on the Foothill Boulevard location.

Stop Toxic Housing in Pasadena has posted a GoFundMe page to raise Tsai’s retainer. The goal is $5,500, with $1,270 harvested as of this writing.

All of which suggests that when the state Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) releases a mitigation plan for cleaning the industrial waste and toxins amassed on the site which does not reflect STHP’s input, a lawsuit might be forthcoming.

The group has made two core demands.

First, STHP wants full testing and cleanup of the site before any development begins. DTSC’s earlier draft plan entails cleanup of only specified locations.

Second, the group is demanding the project’s developer, Pasadena Gateway LLC change its current design to include better pollution control and “bear the full cost for 24/7 HVAC filtration systems and carbon air-filtration systems that will better protect residents from nearby freeway air pollution, including diesel particles and volatile organic compounds,” it is stated on the GoFundMe page.

The Pasadena City Council will vote tonight on recommendations made by staff regarding the site and included in a comments letter for the DTSC from City Manager Steven Mermell to the project manager at DTSC, Nick Ta.

The remarks represent the City of Pasadena’s official contribution to the public comments period for the project.

The City does not disagree with the overall draft plan as a concept, but made recommendations for more certainty as to specific hazardous substances in terms of further testing or monitoring.

The public comment period for the proposed plan closes May 14, after which DTSC will make changes (or not) and issue a Final Removal Action Workplan.

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