MONTEREY PARK — Assemblyman Charles M. Calderon (D-Alhambra) has accused state and city officials of jeopardizing public health by trying to keep a portion of a Monterey Park dump site off the federal Superfund list in order to preserve the property for commercial development.
Calderon said he will ask the state auditor general's office, the Legislature's investigative arm, to look into the way the state has handled the proposed Superfund listing of the Operating Industries dump.
"I should say that I don't have any evidence of wrongdoing," Calderon said. But, noting that the site is being sought for a $60-million commercial development, he added, "It smells because there's big money involved."
City and state officials have previously said that their attempts to reduce the area targeted for Superfund assistance would not affect public health and that their plan would, in fact, aid the dump cleanup.
Excluding 45 Acres
The assemblyman's attack was directed at efforts by Monterey Park and the state to persuade the federal Environmental Protection Agency to exclude 45 acres from the 180-acre Operating Industries site from the proposed Superfund list.
State health and city officials agree that a 135-acre landfill, which lies south of the Pomona Freeway and was closed in 1984, should be on the Superfund list. But they contend that a 45-acre parcel that lies north of the freeway and has not been used as a dump since 1952 should not be included on the list.
State health officials have said they erred on the boundary description in 1982 when they nominated the 180-acre Monterey Park dump for the list of hazardous waste sites eligible for federal funds for toxic cleanup. The site is on a proposed Superfund list that is to be made final in February. The 135-acre dump and the 45-acre parcel are under the same ownership and were divided when the Pomona Freeway was built in the 1960s.
Calderon said the original boundary description should be kept and the state is erring now by trying to shrink the site.
The 45-acre parcel contains an auto salvage yard, an asphalt recycling plant and a storage area for trash trucks. The city of Monterey Park is working with Transpacific Development Co. of Torrance on a $60-million project that would redevelop the property by building five auto dealerships, a cluster of six-story office buildings, retail shops and restaurants. But Transpacific officials say that if the EPA puts the property on the Superfund list they will abandon the project because of liability problems.
City Manager Lloyd de Llamas said last week that consultants have conducted geological studies and bored holes into the site to look for toxic materials. He said the property was never used for the dumping of hazardous waste and studies confirm that the site does not have the kind of toxic materials needed to qualify for Superfund listing. State health officials say any cleanup work can be handled by the property owner.
But Keith Takata, who is in charge of Superfund cleanup programs at the EPA regional office in San Francisco, said a two-year investigation is needed to fully explore the site. Until further studies are done, he said, the property should be on the Superfund list.
Health Risk Ignored?
Calderon said possible explanations for the state's decision-making process on the Superfund listing "range from gross ineptitude to potential illegalities." And he said Monterey Park is so blinded by the prospect of a lucrative commercial development on the property that it seems willing to ignore the health risk.
Monterey Park Mayor Rudy Peralta said last week that he resents the suggestion by Calderon that the city would jeopardize public health in its greed for commercial development.
"I've been trying for a year to get him to see our side of it," he said.
Peralta said there is enough data available to demonstrate that the 45-acre site north of the freeway is safe for development and does not belong on the Superfund list.
"We've conducted borings and we have all the proof," he said.
But Calderon said the site has lead and organic hazardous wastes "at levels sufficient to pose a threat to human health." State and city officials say the soil contaminated with lead will be excavated as part of the commercial project and that any other cleanup problems can be handled by the property owner. The lead and hazardous organic wastes were revealed during site analysis conducted for the city. City official contend that the lead is a result of paint dumped at the site and that the organic substances are a minor problem.
City Manager de Llamas said the commercial development is not only of economic importance to the city but would also speed the cleanup of the neighboring dump. He said the sale of the 45 acres, which is owned by an affiliate of Operating Industries Inc., would generate about $7 million for cleanup work.
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