Opponents of East Pasadena's 550-Apartment Gateway Project Focus on Site's Toxins Cleanup

Published : Friday, March 15, 2019 | 5:48 AM

[Updated]  City Council approval last July of East Pasadena’s Gateway Project has sharpened its opponents’ focus on an upcoming Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC) hearing set for March 28, where they will argue building the proposed 550-apartments would endanger tenants.

Opponents describe the proper cleanup of toxins at the property at 3200 East Foothill Boulevard as the project’s Achilles heel.

There is no dispute the parcel is contaminated with chemicals and compounds that went into the making of torpedoes and rockets: perchlorate, arsenic, volatile organic compounds, and other substances harmful to human beings.

At first blush, it would appear DTSC is focused on the site’s storm drain system, where its research showed most of the soil contamination to be. The plan entails water table testing and further soil analysis after off-site removal of the contaminated dirt.

The informational meeting at which the project will be discussed by department staff will be followed by a public comment period and some locals are ready to fire away.

Among them is Frank Duerr of Keep Pasadena Moving (KPM).

While Keep Pasadena Moving officially, as a group, has not yet decided to make the project a focus of its work, Duerr, who is its executive director, and two other members, have decided to form a splinter cell that does.

They have joined their efforts to those of Dr. Kristin Shrader-Frechette, a scientist and endowed chair at Notre Dame University.

Shrader-Frechette has worked on toxic removal before.

“She wants to take this down a scientific path,” said Duerr. “Exactly what KPM will do is something we are still working on.”

In a pair of emails to Pasadena Now, Shrader-Frechette expressed myriad concerns about how the site is being handled.

Among them were her claim that testing has not been done at every potential source for carcinogens, metals, dioxins, solvents, propellants and explosives, because they have not been located.

“If contaminant ‘sources’ haven’t been located and tested,” Shrader-Frechette asked, “isn’t building apartments on that something like filling a tooth that has an abscess somewhere? If the abscess is covered up, couldn’t it get worse and even kill the patient?”

Only three of 20 studies, she claimed, have been confirmed as meeting U.S. Environmental Protection Agency validation requirements and those three are, as yet, incomplete.

This particular grouping of project opponents wants the state to order a full-site cleanup and to test the groundwater table. And the only ways to do that are through a petition to the Pasadena City Council or by pressuring DTSC.

Duerr said the City of Pasadena was able to avoid doing a full environmental impact review by declaring the development a “transit priority project” for state purposes.

“The City’s Transportation Advisory Commission is fully in, lock-stock-and-barrel, with the transit-oriented districts,” explained Duerr, the idea of which is to put livable communities around the Metro lines, which would get people out of their cars —  it’s Kumbaya, everything’s perfect.”

One possible reason behind Pasadena’s enthusiasm for this stripe of project is, he said, “because Sacramento is dangling the carrot. There is money for adopting this approach.”

Duerr said the City’s choice of the transit option allowed it to adopt a Sustainable Communities Environmental Assessment, rather than a full environmental impact report, which enabled it to require a partial cleanup, rather than one of the whole site.

“What people really need to know is that there is still toxic waste in this environment,” said Duerr. “It’s almost sad that the developers are saying ‘You can open your windows and we’re going to bandaid this with Merv filters.’ I mean that’s not good.”

According to Shrader-Frechette, the assertion that MERV filters would protect prospective residents from polluted air are based on data that ignore much of the diesel particulate matter, mainly from trucks, on the adjacent I-210 freeway.

Said Shrader-Frechette: “Because at-freeway diesel-particle levels are 7 to 25 times greater than ambient air, even under nonexistent perfect conditions, MERV-16 filters would still subject at-freeway residents to diesel-particulate cancer risks that are 5 to 18 times higher than rates [elsewhere in the region].”

Opposition to the project, which cleared the City Council on a 5-3 vote in July 2018, has been mostly on environmental grounds in thrust.

Councilman Gene Masuda, in whose Council District 4 the project is located, voted against it.

“I’m still against it,” Masuda told Pasadena Now. “I just don’t think it’s in the right place. It’s 550 units, there’s toxic material, and it’s right next to the freeway. There’s is nothing you can do about that freeway pollution.”

Masuda said the larger picture in the area is one of increased density and congestion. “I am worried about the aggregate of all this development,” he explained.

Masuda noted that 212 units were just built on the corner of Sierra Madre Villa, across from the Kaiser Building. The Halstead project, one block east of Fire Station 37, will be 19 units. He said there are 212 units going up at Sierra Madre Villa and Foothill Boulevard. Additionally, the Panda Inn project, sited in between the latter two, will have 232 residential units

“It’s just too much,” said Masuda.

Are people in his district aware of what’s going on with the project?

“Yes and no,” said Masuda. “People that were following it closely threw up their arms after the City Council vote. They felt as if the City didn’t care. But we do.”

The project in general, the councilman said, “doesn’t go down well in the community.”

The meeting is set for Thursday at Pasadena Community College Room #126 1st floor, 3035 East Foothill Boulevard, from 6:00 to 6:30. Comments can be e-mailed or fax and must be postmarked by April 8, to Nick Ta, project manager, 5796 Corporate Avenue, Cypress, CA 90630.

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