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Santa Susana Field Lab: Why Does LA want to Sue Them? What is LA Hiding?

POLITICS--On Monday, April 1st, 2019, the City Council Budget Committee will meet to discuss Council File 19-0145. Agenda Item 9 states: 

Motion (Smith - Wesson) relative to retaining, and authorizing funding of up to $600,000 for, the law firm Meyers Nave as outside counsel to engage in all work necessary to prosecute legal action to ensure that the Santa Susana Field Lab site (photo above) be remediated in a manner consistent with prior Council directive.

 (The Committee may recess to Closed Session, pursuant to Government Code Sections 54956.9(d)(2) and 54956.9(d)(4), to confer with its legal counsel relative to the above matter.)” 

This file is a carry-over from 2018 when Councilmember Mitchell Englander of Council District 12 made a Motion related to the Santa Susana Field Laboratory Cleanup in Council File 18 -0874. The Resolution for that Motion.

In this Motion, the City of Los Angeles goes into the “history” of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory site in terms of certain actions taken by the lead agency – the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) and the Department of Energy (DOE) which is responsible for the cleanup of Area IV and the Northern Buffer Zone of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory site. 

This Motion references: “WHEREAS, The overall site is the location of significant environmental hazards and contamination. One of its nuclear reactors experienced a partial nuclear meltdown in 1959, and two other reactors experienced accidents with significant fuel damage, causing releases of radioactivity into the air; this, in addition to napalm and dioxin incineration in open-air bum pits, dumping trichloroethylene and perchlorate, and other contamination from over the 50 years of operations, left the site highly polluted with radioactive and chemical contaminants; and”  

In reading that phrase of the Motion above, anyone who has been involved with the Santa Susana Field Laboratory cleanup or who has read the current litigation against DTSC and the California Department of Health (CDPH) by Committee to Bridge the Gap, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Consumer Watchdog, et al should know that partial meltdown is not a technical term, and that the Federal Environmental Protection Agency did not find widespread radiological contamination as has been alleged by the above non-profits in their case DTSC and CDPH. This is a screen shot from the California Department of Justice’s (DOJ’s) statement to the Court in the above referenced litigation: 

 

So why is the City of Los Angeles so anxious to litigate against DTSC and the Department of Energy? Why is the City signing their responses to the Department of Energy with the NRDC and Committee to Bridge the Gap? Is the City of Los Angeles aware that Committee to Bridge the Gap et al have been in litigation against DTSC and CDPH since August 2013, and that now that there was a ruling, they have filed a Notice of Appeal?

(For information on this litigation.)

Case Number 2013 – 80001589:“Case Title Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles vs. Department of Toxic Substances Control

Case Number :34-2013-80001589-CU-WM-GDS

Case Type: Writ of Mandate

Filing Date 08/06/2013” 

But the bigger question is this – who in the City of Los Angeles read the DTSC Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Report? 

When I first found the letter from the City Engineer on the Committee to Bridge the Gap website in roughly May 2018 with the logos shown above – NRDC, City of Los Angeles, and Committee to Bridge the Gap, I wrote to the City Engineer and I asked who in the City of Los Angeles had reviewed the DTSC Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Report (DTSC Draft PEIR) for the City of Los Angeles.

I wrote: “I was wondering who drafted this letter, why it was on letterhead with two non-profits, and not submitted as a letter separate from those non-profits.” I also noticed that Councilmember Englander was copied on this letter.

I added: “I would greatly appreciate knowing who at the City asked you to sign it, and who in the City read the roughly 4000-page Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Report by the California Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC).”  

This is the response that I got back from the City of Los Angeles Engineering Department: 

“In response to your email to the City Engineer, please know that the Bureau of Engineering, on behalf of the City, coordinated the review of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory Draft Program Environmental Impact Report and the preparation of the comment letter internally and jointly with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Committee to Bridge the Gap.” 

When I saw the effort of Councilmember Smith – his Motion for Council File 19-0145, I filed a California Public Records Act (CPRA) request, and I was sent documents from the City Engineer’s Department. What I found was an authorization by Councilmember Englander for the City to spend $100,000 for an outside firm to read the DTSC Draft PEIR. 

In an additional CPRA, I learned that a firm called Parsons had been hired to review the DTSC Draft PEIR. In response to this response to me, I requested a copy of that report. I was told that this report was subject to “Attorney – Client privilege”. 

So, there are many questions for the City of Los Angeles Elected Officials who are voting on this recommendation to litigate regarding the Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL) site: 

  • Did the City of Los Angeles pay Parsons $100,000 or some other amount to review the DTSC Draft PEIR?
  • If the City authorized the use of tax payer funds for that purpose, shouldn’t the tax payers have access to the report?
  • Is the City of Los Angeles aware of the ongoing litigation by Committee to Bridge the Gap et al v DTSC and CDPH et al? Were they aware that the California DOJ on behalf of the CDPH DENIED that there was a “nuclear meltdown” at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory site? Are they aware that the DOJ “DENIED that at the Sodium Reactor experimental unit suffered a partial nuclear meltdown”?
  • Why does the City of Los Angeles want to tie the SSFL site up in further litigation when their last case against the Department of Energy lasted about four years – 2004 to 2007?
  • Why doesn’t the City of Los Angeles authorize funding related to health risk analyses that are independent of the ones quoted in their letter with Committee to Bridge the Gap and the NRDC which are dated analyses?
  • Is the City of Los Angeles aware that the four Neighborhood Councils who are most impacted by the cleanup of this site do not want the cleanup that they are proposing – the cleanup of the whole site to “Background” which according to the Department of Energy could take decades, and which in a recent NASA Office of Inspector General’s report, stated could take until 2045 to achieve? 

My community which is within about five miles of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory site had an expectation that the site would be cleaned up by 2017. This site has been subject to almost constant litigation since 2004 when the NRDC, the City of Los Angeles, and Committee to Bridge the Gap filed their first litigation against the Department of Energy. 

Wouldn’t negotiation with the agencies benefit the communities around the SSFL site more than litigation?

 

(Chris Rowe has been a 41-year resident of West Hills, was a former West Hills Neighborhood Council Board Member, and has a B.S. in health education. She can be reached at rowecl@yahoo.com.)

-cw