More than 500 claims by Fullerton homeowners alleging that the city was negligent in allowing construction of their homes next to a hazardous waste dump were rejected by the City Council Tuesday on grounds that they were filed too late.
City Atty. R.K. Fox said the 542 claims filed June 19 failed to meet the statute of limitations for taking legal action on alleged damage. Another 31 claims were sent back to the homeowners because they lacked important information, such as dates of the alleged damage.
City attorneys have contended that the problems associated with the abandoned dump for World War II aviation fuel wastes have been well publicized since the late 1970s and that homeowners have had ample time to seek damages.
The claims represent about 200 homes; the attorney for those homeowners filed claims for every family member.
The claims, which seek more than $4 billion from the city, are similar to claims brought by 141 families several years ago. Those suits ultimately were settled out of court for a total of more than $13 million, the last one in June.
City Paid $2.5 Million
The settlements included $2.5 million paid by the city to families living near the McColl dump site in northwest Fullerton.
The new claimants did not join in the initial suits because "they were told by state representatives that the dump would be cleaned up," said Robert H. Sulnick, a Santa Monica attorney who organized meetings with neighborhood residents as the first large settlements were being announced. When a $21.5-million federal Superfund cleanup project was delayed by a court-ordered environmental impact study, the homeowners saw no other recourse than to file claims, he said.
"I'm sure the city feels that after having made those settlements they're off the hook," Sulnick said. But the problem "can't go away," he said.
However, Fox and an attorney who represented the city in the earlier McColl settlements said the new claimants say they learned of the dump's hazards only in the last few months. "The (new) claims should have been filed years ago," said Richard G. Montevideo, an attorney with the Rutan & Tucker law firm in Costa Mesa.
Jeffrey Matz, an attorney for 122 of the previous 141 plaintiff families, has said new lawsuits would stand little chance of success because the case had been publicized for a long time and officials and homeowners have been required since 1982 to disclose the dump's problems to all new buyers.
Occupancy Began in '78
The eight-acre dump, which lies under a vacant field and part of the Los Coyotes Country Club golf course, is surrounded on three sides by expensive homes. Concern over the dump's noxious odors began when the first homes were occupied in 1978.
Highly toxic sulfuric acid, benzene and arsenic have been detected at the dump site. Neighbors have complained that the sulfuric acid caused headaches, nausea and respiratory problems before a canvas cover and layers of soil were placed over the sumps.
Some of the acid sludge has percolated to the surface in the last several months, prompting renewed complaints and remedial cleanup measures.
After the city settled with families in three housing tracts in March, developer J.F. Shea Co. agreed to pay $3.2 million to residents in the Fullerton Crest development immediately south of the dump.
William Lyon Co., developer of the Meadows and Islands housing tracts near the dump, settled in June for $4.5 million in what was thought to be the end of a five-year court battle.
Seven oil companies previously had settled for $1.4 million, and Orange County and the State of California have paid a combined total of about $550,000. Other defendants included a soil analysis firm, grading contractors and the country club owners.