Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek is asking the state Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) for more time to evaluate the cleanup of a former military weapons testing site where more than 550 apartments and a host of businesses are scheduled to be built.
“The city of Pasadena has serious concerns that the scope of the draft RAW [removal action work] is inadequate and will need to be expanded,” Tornek wrote.
Tornek also called on the state agency to extend the public comment period on the draft plan to July 30.
The letter came on the heels of a March 29 meeting attended by Councilman Gene Masuda and Victor Gordo in which local residents demanded more time to review documents related to the environmental cleanup of the 8.5-acre site, which was formerly a naval testing center.
But instead of getting the three-month extension, the DTSC granted just 22 days to review the 500-page document.
“The requested extension is necessary to ensure proper time is provided for public review of the document,” Tornek wrote.
The refusal to accommodate the three-month extension prompted Masuda and Gordo to demand the project be bought back to the council as soon as possible.
“Our council has a responsibility to the safety of the residents and to make sure the residents’ concerns are addressed,” said Masuda, whose district includes the former testing site.
The property is currently occupied by a Space Bank storage facility. In the 1920s it housed a furniture company, and was later bought by Caltech, which used it for research into jet propulsion in the 1930s and maintained it during World War II.
The Navy purchased the property from Caltech in 1945 and used it for classified projects and torpedo testing during the Cold War.
The research center consisted of approximately 60 buildings, which included testing laboratories, machine shops, a foundry and storage buildings, including one for still unknown classified materials.
Historical use of the project site for research, testing and assembly of torpedoes and other weapon systems has generated the presence of hazardous materials in soil and soil vapor, and potentially in groundwater beneath the property.
The proposed housing project includes remediation required by and at the direction of the DTSC, with utilization of the property for mixed residential and commercial development contingent upon the results of the remediation.
The developers would also be required to install groundwater monitoring systems to determine ongoing levels of contaminants in the soil and water.
“We contemplated a safe project,” Gordo said. “Are they meeting the responsibility needed to provide us with a safe project?”
Conversation on the incident was limited because it was not on last Monday’s council agenda. City Attorney Michele Beal Bagneris warned the council that the matter could not be the subject of substantive discussion without violating the Ralph M. Brown Act, the state’s open meeting law which prohibits elected officials from deliberating on items not on the meeting agenda.
Local residents called for an independent agency to conduct complete testing of the soil, instead of the spot testing that is currently being conducted.
“We have been misled I think about the safety of this site and the reason this matter is so urgent is ground is supposed to be broken for construction in May,” said Kristin Shrader-Frechette, an environmental scientist.
According to Shrader-Frechette, the site will cost between $1 million and $2 million for a less than full cleanup.
“For $1 to $2 million we’re putting 550 families, including hundreds of children, at risk at a partially remediated site the DTSC has called an imminent and substantial danger,” said Shrader-Frechette.
“If something is an imminent and substantial danger we need to clean it up ahead of time and that needs to be done by an independent party,” she said.
Former Pasadena City College Board Member Jeanette Mann said the college purchased nearby land from the Pasadena Unified School District for the Community Education Center without knowing about the contamination at the space bank facility.
“It’s outrageous to build on a toxic waste site,” Mann said. “Two things have to happen before any construction begins. There must be a complete cleanup, and secondly the developer should not do the cleanup. It must be done by an independent agent.”
The project has been controversial since it came before the City Council in July. In order to build the apartments, Pasadena Gateway, LLC will demolish 29 existing buildings on the property on Foothill Boulevard, near Sierra Madre Villa Avenue. Those units will be replaced with 550 apartments in eight residential units, along with nearly 10,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space. The project, which includes above-ground and subterranean parking, will also include 46 units for low-income renters and 23 units for people with moderate incomes.
The project would also include two acres of recreational space, including a public park, courtyards, a dog park, a fitness center, two clubhouses and a retail court.
Local residents claimed the project was too close to the freeway where diesel fumes could pose health risks to the residents of the project. Others said the project would increase traffic in the already impacted area.
“Once the project is done, I honestly do not know how people will get to the west side of Pasadena,” wrote Laura Rodriguez in July, noting already heavy traffic will be unbearable if the project goes forward.
“The already crowded streets will be impacted by this as well as several housing and commercial developments in East Pasadena that will be built in the near future,” Rodriguez wrote. “If you do not live around here, you can ignore the problem, but we certainly cannot.”
Proponents claim the project will provide the city with necessary housing.
According to city Planning Director David Reyes, tenants would be provided with special high quality air filters with that will filter out 75 percent of the particulates.
Council members Masuda, Gordo and Tyron Hampton voted against the project.
“We have to protect the quality of life for everyone,” Masuda said. “We have to be thinking about the health and the lives of the residents of our city — that’s our responsibility.”