Is City Council spinning the truth?

It happened on June 22, 2011, at a City Council meeting during a discussion of the reported neighborhood poisoning on North Hymettus. Several speakers had mentioned the soil contamination on the Hall property. Planning Director Patrick Murphy suddenly leapt to his microphone to speak. He said there was no significant contamination on the property, and Councilman Jerome Stocks quickly joined in to say how important it was to state that. It all looked like a carefully planned setup. What was the city up to?
On the very first page of the Hazardous Materials section of the Final EIR (page 3.6-1) it says, “The EBS Phase I identified potential features of concern related to hazardous materials ….” and “The Phase I identified several constituents of concern associated with historical site land use including pesticides, petroleum hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds, toxic metals, and hexavalent chromium.”
This certainly doesn’t sound like uncontaminated land.
What are those pesticides? DDE, DDT, Dieldrin, and Toxaphene “were found in exceedance of residential CHHSL and PRG levels,” (page 3.6-10). The report continues, “Toxaphene’s 95% upper confidence level … exceeded the published toxaphene CHHSLs and PRGs.”
It was going to be a difficult job to explain the high level of this dangerous carcinogen.
I have highlighted the word residential. This is the key to understanding how the city shaped the EIR to try to minimize the contamination. There are only two standards for measuring levels of contamination: residential and industrial.
The city created a “recreational” standard and used it “in the absence of established screening levels for a public use park,” (page 3.6-10).
The city has used statistical manipulation to dismiss the contamination. It’s like the often-told story of the man who drowned in a lake with an average depth of one foot. The game is revealed in the technical reports in the Draft EIR.
When assessing the risk to the public, the consultant says that, “we judge that patrons of the park could potentially come into direct contact with residual pesticides present in shallow soils via inhalation (of fugitive dust), ingestion, or dermal exposure,” (Volume 2, Appendix H, Page 31 EBS).
The city spent almost three years from December 2004 to October 2008 before presenting the EIR to the Planning Commission. The city, of course, got what it paid for, which was a favorable report on the insignificance of any contamination.
Yet the city agreed to a San Diego County Department of Environmental Health Voluntary Assistance Program in order to mitigate the nonexistent contamination. Why pay for an expensive onsite testing and burial of noncontaminated soil?
Because the city knew it had a serious problem with the high level of toxaphene, knew it had significant safety issues for construction workers at the “low” residential levels and serious risks for surrounding neighbors during construction.
So in the September 2009 court hearing before Superior Court Judge Earl Maas III, the city agreed to mitigate the contaminated soil, which cleared the way for park construction. The city had a court victory with an admission of contamination.
Why has the city turned on the spin machine after agreeing to mitigate the soil contamination? Patrick Murphy in an e-mail said the city can always do more mitigation, although it doesn’t have to. Does he really expect us to believe that the city is rewarding the people in Cardiff who fought the city for ten years?
If that’s the case, why didn’t the city simply do the cleanup after receiving the Dudek site assessment in March 2001? And why did the city attempt a negative declaration, then lose a lawsuit, pay $54,000 in legal fees, do the EIR anyway, and then spend 3 years writing it. The answer is simple: to avoid doing the cleanup.
The city has a policy for cleaning up greenhouse property with “low” levels of contamination for residential subdivisions. Contaminated soil must be removed or buried under the private lots, not under public right-of-way. This is to avoid future exposure to the city workers. It ignores possible exposure to the new homeowners. Yet on the Hall property the soil with the same or more problematic contamination will be buried on site where city workers might risk future exposure. It seems the city has disregard for both citizens and its own workers when it is convenient to do so.

Gerald Sodomka is a resident of Cardiff-by-the-Sea.

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  1. Made in Encinitas says:

    It is good to know that "recreational standard contanmination" is unique to our home town! Something to be very proud of City Council!

  2. Significant NOT! says:

    All of the Planners use the term "significant" in a misleading way. For all who have had statistics or come from most academic areas, "significant" has a particular mathematical meaning that is derived from the application of a test that is appropriate to what is being measured.

    “Significant” under CEQA law means—well, whatever planners want it to mean. Just because Scott Vurbeff and Pat Murphy say the word
    “significant,” don’t assume that they are using it as you are. They are using it to say, “this term is a code word that I can use to prove that my OPINION will be listened to above any scientific analysis or other professionally rendered scientific data because I am in the Planning Department! So if I use my big boy word with a wink wink, and a nudge nudge, I can get paid to attend meetings and say my grown up sounding words and I don’t have to understand things like math or science. On top of that, you will have to pay me my pension when I retire at 55!”

    So when you hear a planner say ‘significant,’ or ‘recreational contamination,’ they are the ones who are choosing the meaning. Don’t assume that are using it in the same. widely acceptable or ethical manner that scientists like Mr. Sodomka do.

  3. encinitasyouneedus says:

    Well said, Gerald. Thank you for submitting this.

  4. patrick oconnor says:

    It is difficult to get a man to give an objective answer when his salary and his pension depend on not giving an objective answer

  5. GasparLetDown says:

    I think that Gaspar has been such a disappointment considering that she is a mother of young children. If anyone should have been concerned about the contamination on the Hall Property, it is her. Like Patrick O. said below, "it is difficult to get a man (or woman) to give an objective answer when his (or her) salary, pension, (and access to new clients) depends on not giving an objective answer."

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