Thu, Jun

The Lincoln Heights Community Uncover a Criminal History of Dumping at the Ave 34 Project Site!

EASTSIDER - Last week Capitol & Main broke the story that Lincoln Heights Intel and their allies have uncovered that illegal toxins were dumped on the Ave 34 Project site as long ago as the 1980’s! You can find the article here. 

Here’s the lead from that article, and it’s a doozy: 

“Amateur sleuthing has unearthed archival records from the 1980s showing how the site of a proposed housing development in Lincoln Heights, north of Downtown Los Angeles, was once a massive illegal hazardous waste dump that led to a milestone prosecution in California.

The findings raise questions anew about plans to remediate the property, the Department of Toxic Substances Control’s regulatory oversight of the project and how important information might have been hidden from a largely low income community already highly distrustful of the planned development.” 


“According to Jim Wells, a professional geologist with the firm L. Everett & Associates, more extensive site investigations need to take place before the project should move forward. “The consequences of this illegal dumping are not adequately understood,” he said.

The DTSC failed to respond to multiple emailed questions about its knowledge of the illegal toxic dump and possible ramifications for the redevelopment moving forward.” 

This is on top of everything else that the Lincoln Heights community and allies brought forward during a obviously ‘fixed’ vote by the LA City Planning Commission.  Including significant toxins still under the site, and being “handled” via a “Voluntary Cleanup” with the DTSC (California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control).  Of course if you actually look at their website, you will find that “Volatile Organics (8260B VOCS)” are “Areas of Concern” and are “Under Investigation”.  The link to this is here. 

The Real Question is How Could This Happen?

The new, highly significant revelations go back to the 1980’s. and were the result of an investigation and prosecution by our very own Los Angeles District Attorneys Office.   Barry C. Groveman was the head of the DA’s “Toxic Waste Strike Force”, and busted  American Caster Corporation for  a serious crime.  As he was quoted in a 1985 piece by the Daily News they were “people who dig cavernous holes in the ground and bury hundreds of barrels of toxic wastes and hope nobody finds them.” 

They dumped 252 gallon barrels of toxic waste in the current site for the Avenue 34 Project. And they got caught, pled out, and  on February 12, 1985, they took out a full page ad in the LA Times with the header of: “TOXIC WASTES WILL RESULT IN JAIL. WE SHOULD KNOW, WE GOT CAUGHT”. 

God I love the good old days!. There’s another great quote from Groverman back in the day relating to American Caster’s management: "I wanted to build the equivalent of an environmental SWAT team... I wanted criminally intentful corporate officers to spend time in jail, so they could associate the slamming of the jail door with the violent act of midnight dumping." 

 Wish it was still true. Does anyone seriously believe that such a quote could come from the lips of Mike Feuer or George Gascon?  Me neither. 

Anyhow, the fundamental questions raised by these developments (pun intended), is whether or not we the governed can rely on our public institutions to do their duty as repositories of historical information.  1985 was not all that long ago in a City which was founded in 1781, and became a part of the State of California in 1850.  You would think they have learned how to store public records somewhere within the last 117 years or so.  Or maybe how to hide them. 

This mess involved a serious, successful, criminal prosecution involving very toxic substances in LA City, so the whole matter should be on file all over the City.  Like LA City Clerk, Planning Department, Police Department, Planning Commission, somewhere. 

This is a massive failure of our City bureaucracy.  I legitimately wonder how many other land use problems have disappeared or never been filed with the appropriate City Department.  And I would really like to know who in LA City is going to do anything about this and ensure that it doesn’t happen again. Like do some sort of review or investigation to see what other negative land use matters conveniently don’t exist in the Planning system for LA City. 

About the DTSC

The Department of Toxic Substances Control also bears scrutiny.  Established in 1972, their website indicates in 1978

The Hazardous Waste Management Unit fights for funding, staff, and resources. This changes when Love Canal, a New York community built atop a toxic waste site, brings toxic waste into the forefront of news and legislation. By 1978, nearly 70 people are working in the Unit, and it is elevated to branch status. 

and in 1981 

The Hazardous Waste Management Unit becomes the Toxic Substances Control Division. It has two offices, a laboratory in Berkeley and a Sacramento office. A concerned and often outraged public fuels the need to inform and include communities in the process of cleaning up hazardous waste sites. In response, the division hires a specialist to handle public relations and two public information officers. 

So much for the history.  The very real question that the Ave 34 Project raises is, how good and complete are their records?  They sure weren’t much use in this project, and someone should raise the issue with them.  After all, they are the statewide agency charged with controlling toxic substances.  Maybe the 3 PR positions could be switched to making sure that their database is complete. 

The Takeaway

In a series of previous articles covering the Ave 34 Development in Lincoln Heights, it was obvious that our bought and paid for system was going to go forward with the project even though there is no question that the site is polluted and likely so is the LA River which runs under it. 

 Here are links to each article, which detail the chicanery of the Project itself, Council District 1 (Cedillo), the LA City Planning Commission, and even the State agency who has statutory oversight of toxic substances in our communities, the DTSC. 

1) September 2020 The Gentrification Monster Wants to Eat Lincoln Heights - A Toxic Avenue 34 Project 

2) October 2020 Lincoln Heights Avenue 34 Project – Bad Planning Work and a Whiff of Jose Huizar 

3) May 2021 Lincoln Heights Avenue 34 Project - Proof of Who Owns Us 

4) July 2021 - Lincoln Heights Right, Planning Commission Wrong - There Are Public Health Issues (Toxins) with the Ave 34 Project 

The point of this recitation is to demonstrate that the Ave 34 Project had plenty of time for the City to do actual due diligence, and find out what toxic stuff had been dumped in a largely minority community, right near school children and the Los Angeles River. 

Shame on the Planning Department, shame on the City Planning Commission, and shame on the LA City Councilmember for CD1. Speaking of CD 1,  Lincoln Heights Intel is responsible for a large portion of these latest reveals, and they say hi. 

Somebody needs to seriously investigate all the above before a shovel hits the ground on this turkey. 

Note to Mayoral Hopefuls

I think there is a not so hidden message here for all the Mayoral candidates; Raquel Beltran has no hope of “managing” the Neighborhood Councils like her predecessor, Grayce Liu.  Better start looking...

(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.)