Eighty-three Oxnard residents have filed a $1-billion damage suit against state and local government agencies and developers after learning that their homes are built over a former oil waste dump.
The suit, filed Tuesday in Ventura County Superior Court, came one year after a soil test found traces of oil and oil waste byproducts, including benzene, a known cancer-causing agent. The test results led to the disclosure that the land had been previously used as an oil waste dump between 1955 and 1962.
Santa Ana attorney Conrad G. Tuohey, who represents the 83 Oxnard Dunes residents, said Wednesday that homeowners have suffered financial losses as well as emotional distress. He said that lenders have refused to make loans on the property and homeowners are unable to move out because they cannot sell or refinance their homes.
He said they are also concerned about their health. Tuohey reported that the state Department of Health Services at one point advised residents not go grow vegetables on the property or allow their children to play in the sand.
"The Oxnard Dune subdivision is a classic case of accumulated neglect," he said. The suit alleges fraud, deceit, negligent misrepresentation, inverse condemnation, dangerous conditions, wanton and willful misconduct and conspiracy.
Oxnard City Attorney Duane Lyders said Wednesday the suit was "entirely without merit and substance." The city was named as a defendant.
"In my personal opinion, I think there's a great deal of hysteria out there. They're whipped up by some residents and some of the attorneys," Lyders said. The city several weeks ago rejected claims from residents who sought $20 million each for health and property damages.
"The area was an old dumping ground for oil fill drilling mud some 20 or 30 years ago . . . and its been there ever since. Obviously, you can test for all kinds of minute residues of hydrocarbons, but that doesn't indicate any problem," Lyders said. The extent of contamination has not been determined.
But, Lyders conceded that home buyers may not have been informed at the time they purchased the property that it was a former dump for oil and oil drilling by-products. At the time the subdivision was approved, Lyders said the main concern was not how toxic the soil may have been but whether the land would support foundations for homes.
The oil wastes were dumped into unlined pits and then mixed with sand and dirt and covered with an additional topping of sand and soil.
Also named as defendants in the suit were Ventura County, the state Department of Health Services, the state Regional Water Quality Control Board, the Humacid-MacLeod Co., which leased the land in 1955 from the Dominick McGrath Estate Co. to operate the oil-field waste disposal facility, and the Oxnard Shores Co..