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Sep-21-2010 10:32printcomments

Irvine Great Park Inherits Contaminants Part II

Irvine City Council Great Park Update: Questions Outnumber Answers
“Nature, red in tooth and claw…Dragons of the prime that tare each other in their slime.” - Lord Tennyson
The Great Park Consultants Favorite Position

(IRVINE, Calif.) - Well folks, there was tooth, fang and claw aplenty at the September 14, 2010 Irvine City Council meeting, a hearing that more closely resembled the jostling of a mud-infused mosh pit than civil discourse. As everyone staggered to the finish line after 3 hours, all I got out of it was that the rehab continues to reflect guesses about the volumes, persistence and vague timelines and strategies of contaminant remediation.

Tim King & Roger Butow at El Toro

3 frikking hours and these bozos never told us IF the runways are being torn up as promised, let alone WHEN they’ll be removed. They only tested the soil under the runways via bore holes in a few places, so they don’t even know IF there are significant concentrations and obviously don’t know WHAT those toxic constituents are. Funny, but I thought CERCLA sites weren’t TO BE ANNOUNCED or TO BE DETERMINED LATER, laissez-faire kind of deals. In this situation it’s more like “LAZY IS FAIR”.

Little or no accountability, they claim that they’ll figure out what to do when they get there, and one couldn’t help feel some déjà vu, sort of a Vietnam-Iraq-Afghanistan mojo machine was at work behind the Big Orange Balloon.

Eat your heart out (please) Sarah Palin, you can’t hold an all-winter Alaskan candle to a REAL life mama grizzly, the unexpurgated and unrehearsed ICC member Ms. Christina Shea. Unlike empty-headed Sarah, Ms. Shea is many, many things, but quitter is not among them.

City Council member Christina Shea

Ms. Shea could be compared to a pit bull or perhaps a raptor hovering then spotting lunch for her chicks---Tenacious as she chomped down on the feet and nether reaches of the dog and pony show Great Park flunkies which waltzed through ICC Chambers that night. Meant to assuage concerns, the Cover-Your-Ass consultants and agency reps just dug themselves an even deeper hole by stumbling/bumbling/blathering the party line but not answering her direct inquiries, those of Council member Choi or of Team El Toro (TET).

I’m Prussian, we know all about “fruitful” interrogation methodology, and Ms. Shea was certainly exemplary as she firmly waded into these intransigent, obfuscating oafs and duked it out---This time it was thankfully the good guy and gal doing the grilling, you could smell the smoke from the puppets nostrils as they suppressed inner turmoil and exhibited false indignity. Sgt. Shea and Lt. Choi, sic ‘em!

Look at glib Ms. Shea objectively as a hetero male, you’re lulled into an aesthetically pleasing and friendly smile, large warm green eyes, playful ones befitting a joyful grandmother aging gracefully, you observe a very attractive and smartly dressed sophisticate. She’s not your typical politico, not a bogus edge to her, she’s sincere in her demeanor and I’m just glad that our working group, TET, is on her side of the chain link fence!

Irvine City Council's Dr. Steven Choi

Dr. Steven Choi, her fellow Councilmember and no dull knife himself, also asked very specific pointed questions but did not receive any pertinent responses. He banged the transparency drum incessantly but civilly to the deaf, dumb and blind Greek chorus cover-up attendees, there in VERY expensive numbers as if by quantity alone they bolstered a vacuous, unraveling plan.

Choi remained implacable in demeanor, perhaps his service as a Korean military officer prepared him for Irvine political intrigue, nonetheless he reflected fortitude and the kind of guts he’ll need as this mess deconstructs. Vague and ambiguous timelines prevailed, guestimates gushed, they coupled almost obscenely with the repeated invocation of variations of the word “Hope” -----As if empty and elusive answers are germane or encouraging to the rehab skeptics.

Hopefully they’ll find nothing more than already found, hopefully the aquifer contaminants won’t migrate into drinking water supplies, hopefully they’ll tear up the runways and find nothing they can’t remove or clean, ad nauseum hope hope hope. It was like an Obama rally in 2008, full of gullible promises of change but short on specifics.

Here the words of W. B. Yeats “The Second Coming” (1920) have meaning as MCAS El Toro revelations and nightmares emerge as evil incarnate, the Second Coming of MCAS El Toro as a golem, an animated brainless lunk of a corpse brought back to life in all of its rotten glory:

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;

Images of El Toro 2008 by Tim King

Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out

When a vast image out of Spritus Mundi

Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,

A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,

Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it

Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again; but now I know

That twenty centuries of stony sleep

were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

I can report some uplifting and gladdening insights to readers: WHOOPEE! Irony did NOT end on 9/11. It’s alive in Irvine. At the hearing ICC member Beth Krom peevishly exclaimed that the base would have been converted to an unacceptable commercial airport or, barring that, locals would be forced to “Put a crater in there, dig the entire thing out and find a landfill large enough to consume it.”  

Earth to Beth, Earth to Beth: Hello, Beth, this is why you shouldn’t be elected to our 48th US Congressional District seat. Our present representative, John Campbell, is an empty-headed twit, hasn’t an original thought in his head, but knows enough to keep his trap shut. You, Ms. Krom, just opened your big fat gob and spoke the ugly truth, sabotaging your own self-serving plea---The suicidal truth. The insane truth. The real and ultimate undisclosed and unaddressed truth as proposed by TET: Tear up the entire site down to about 20-30 feet, haul it ALL away to a toxic waste dump site if you can find one recipient greedy and/or stupid enough to take it all, maybe put it in rockets and shoot it into the sun, get it the Hell out of Irvine and the OC. What-ev-er.

Ms. Krom’s lapsed Freudian slip should be taken face value: Some dumb and remote place that could consume, heck SUBSUME, that is in a very dark and distant place. One that can let these wastes get lost in a bigger and more widely protected pit, where the contaminants are never unearthed, exposed to the air or allowed to migrate as they are now. Where they can’t continue to leach for decades into adjacent groundwater supplies.

Report on Irvine City Council meeting 14 Sept. 2010.

So the dragons Tennyson wrote of were the major players that night, they tore into and wrestled each other vigorously, Mayor Sukhee Kang as exasperated chair trying to keep order while chaos emerged triumphant. The center did NOT hold. His jaw muscles working feverishly, one was surprised that he still had full teeth instead of stubs at the buzzer. It appeared as if even he became furious at the inept, incomplete, nebulous and arrogant responses by the Great Park, Irvine Ranch Water District, enviro-consultants URS and government staffs. I don’t often pity elected public officials, but watching an obviously proud man lose control of these crazies gave me a twinge of guilt.

Variations of the word “Hope” were sprinkled generously, like condiment ketchup by a truck driver on his burger and fries at a roadside diner. “Hopefully” was used in regards to timelines regarding the pumping out and remediation of the aquifer, “hopefully” they’ll find no further contamination under the runways and other still-in-place hardscape. This is delusional, and thus Ms. Krom’s petulance is sickly, sadly relevant in ways she is intellectually incapable of appreciating.

In a very amusing 2007 article “The Total Perspective Vortex,” Christopher S. Putnam alludes to hope as the psychological refuge of the defeated, I serve you a relevant excerpt that should be tattooed on the inside of Larry Agran’s eyelids:

“In 1988, psychologists Shelly Taylor and Jonathon Brown published an article making the somewhat disturbing claim that positive self-deception is a normal and beneficial part of most people’s everyday outlook. They suggested that average people hold cognitive biases in three key areas: a) viewing themselves in unrealistically positive terms; b) believing they have more control over their environment than they actually do; and c) holding views about the future that are more positive than the evidence can justify. The typical person, it seems, depends on these happy delusions for the self-esteem needed to function through a normal day. It’s when the fantasies start to unravel that problems arise.” [1]

Personally, my favorite quote which my research can’t locate attribution is “Hope is the refuge of fools and thieves, and which one are you?”  The public is being fooled and you don’t have time enough to count the thieves that have lined their pockets in this fiasco, some of them got substantial paid overtime at that ICC meeting. Watching the alphas testify, it was difficult not to laugh at their squeamish body language and circular replies during Christina and Steven’s grilling. If this were a court of law, the judge would declare their replies unresponsive and treat them as hostile witnesses.

The city-hired oversight attorney attached to this nightmare looked panicked, visibly frightened, as though “Bambi-caught-in-the-headlights-of-a-Mac-truck-on-a-country road-at-midnight,” in grave contrast to his splendiferous dress accoutrement attire. Usually, he’s probably just your every day, run-of-the-mill dapper, dandy and obviously over-paid legal counsel named Richard G. Montevideo (partner in Rutan & Tucker LLP).

Richard G. Montevideo

This go round he sweated right through his Armani while he continuously checked his Rolex watch as if on the verge of missing his train. He paused occasionally to give the City Manager Sean Joyce the old high sign, as in help I need a life preserver “Danger Will Robinson, Danger" alert.  As in: “Jesus, Sean, my whole act is dying up here at the podium, the whole megillah is going into the toilet. Get me out of here, hopefully excuse me somehow, my mom is flicking the porch light, they’re closing in on the facts.”  

Montevideo shuffled his feet more times than an Ali fight, flummoxed, he resembled Gregory Hines tap-dancing Mr. Bo Jangles as he whistled through the graveyard, the wheels-coming-off-the-bike that is the Great Park Scam there for all to view. He basically delaminated right before our incredulous eyes, hopefully the live TV audience saw it too. Even a first year psychology student could see through all of that body English, avoidance and eye-rolling as behavioral hallmarks of liars---Liars AND thieves.

Maybe more appropriate for this military base conversion is the famous line by Dante regarding the Gates of Hell, it should be posted over what used to be the Main Gate we Marines passed through so many times back in the late 60s:

"Through me the way that runs among the lost.

Justice urged on my high artificer;

My maker was divine authority,

The highest wisdom, and the primal love.

Before me nothing but eternal things were made,

And I endure eternally.

Abandon every hope, all ye who enter here."

One burning question for TET is our repeated requests for more information regarding the runways that have yet to be answered---So Ms. Shea and Dr. Choi are in the same stationary line that never moves, it’s kind of a California DMV cue, a conga line to nowhere. "Full of sound and fury,

signifying nothing." (Shakespeare)

Here’s where a 40-year builder like myself has grievous apprehension. Really, even a weekend warrior installing his own patio or walkways will comprehend the following discussion, as they say it’s not rocket science---Unless of course you’re in charge of a humungous billion $$$ SUPERFUND project, then it’s Sanskrit or cryptically unknowable at public hearings while being questioned by outraged elected public officials. 

It is a matter of common knowledge that there were numerous herbicides and pesticides now known to be carcinogenic used by the former tenant Irvine Ranch for their lima bean fields. When the Ranch was sold and the base developed back in 1942 certain stages would have been implemented, TET assumes that no soil was exported offsite as there is no evidence this occurred and also grading strategies would have precluded it:

 (1)         The soil and plants, sitting either close to level or even mildly concave to enhance irrigation saturation, would have been tilled to as great a depth as technology allowed, thus more thoroughly mixing the resident carcinogenic chemicals with the clay expansive and nutrient rich existing soil.

(2)         Rough grading would have pushed a very large portion towards the middle, towards the nexus (intersection) of the proposed two flight runways. As builders, we know that you need a drop or slope that is at minimum 1/8” per foot of fall to facilitate even minimal surface drainage. Let’s use that minimum, though intuition dictates more. Thus 1/8”/ft.==Approximate 1 foot per 100 feet. (There are 96 of these 1/8ths in a foot).

(3)         Using the shortest runway for our calculations, 8,000 feet long, the distance from the center nexus would be about 4,000 feet. At 1 foot/100 feet, the intersection should have been about 40+ feet higher than the margins.

(4)         These margins would have had drainage channels to divert the substantial runoff carried from such a large total area. First, you don’t want standing water where the planes take off, second, you don’t want the surrounding hangars and support areas deluged either.

(5)         The detritus, the excess soil from grading for access and arterial roads, would have been ideal for this dome-like, convex runway configuration.

Where it starts getting hinky is before the sub-bases (gravel and sand) for hardscape were installed, undoubtedly a soil sterilizer or combo of sterilizers would have been laid down pretty thick and even tilled in a few feet deep, orthodichlorbenzene being the most likely back in 1942. This would insure that nothing organic grew up through and disrupted the final grading membrane. Nasty stuff, and guess what? Boring a few sampling holes certainly won’t tell us today how much let alone where contaminants or type thereof lay in wait under these runways. A pitiful few samples won’t provide a predictive model for the consequences when unearthed, released as airborne particulates or rainy event migrants---Is this the toxic waste dump that just keeps on giving or what? [2]

The crux of the biscuit, what still begs for resolution and more analysis? Well, ironically a common metal found in a lot of things made back when, lead (Pb), seems to be one of the acknowledged Contaminants of Concern (COC) that persists to be found in unacceptably high concentrations in aquifer and soil sampling today. And wouldn’t you know it, those waste landfills on site had a lot of heavy metals that, when saturated and comingled with such a chemical cocktail of pesticides, herbicides and defoliant/sterilizers, leads to newly married Pollutants of Persistence (POPs), rampant migrating toxicity, plus metal aging reactions too. Eco-toxicity. [3]

They say that one shouldn’t curse the darkness, but the American taxpayer who is footing the bill, the regional residents who may be exposed to what happy surprises lay deceptively cloaked, are being asked to view this mess through a glass darkly as they say in Corinthians...And that quote contends that we may only have a clear insight after dying. Through the aberrational twisted lens the Great Park leeches present to us, the multi-faceted prism that is the cleanup of this former base turns one notch and more health and safety questions, not less emerge.

Larry Agran promised the Gold standard for this rehab recently in the media, equal to getting an “A” in class. Right now they’re focused on barely complying with environmental law, scraping by, cutting corners, the equivalent of barely passing, a Bart Simpson  “D” in school. Since when was this rehab being reviewed and judged a success as “Pass/Fail”?

If Choi and Shea are unsuccessful in their noble battle for transparency, all of us will become losers. Only the shysters that have lined their pockets, only the vendors who toe the party line, only the government oversight flunkies who just want to hand over the keys to this Pinto and get the Hell out, only the political slime that ingest still more localized power will prevail. This is a zero sum game, and unless federal criminal investigative intervention (think RICO) occurs soon, we just bought ourselves a lemon and are stuck with it.

FYI: If a project near you has some interesting enviro-aspect(s) that you think is/are worthy of coverage and our readers attention, feel free to contact me with a very brief synopsis. Water-related “Blue Interventions” are my specialty!


Launched in 2010, Odd Man Out is the creation of Roger von Bütow and his OMO columns are written exclusively for Salem-News-com. Born and raised in the LA Harbor area, son of a German immigrant father, he's been in Orange County for 45 years and is a 38-year resident of Laguna Beach, Ca. In 1998, he began his professional career in environmental review processes (CEQA, NEPA, MND, MND and EIR/EIS). He's a rare mix of cross-trained builder, writer and consultant as he brings his extensive construction experiences dating back to 1972 into his eco-endeavors. He has tremendous field and technical expertise in successful watershed restorations, plus wastewater, urban runoff, water quality monitoring/improvements and hydrologic mechanisms. He's built everything from commercial spas to award-winning private residences, and provided peer review and consultant analyses for single homes, subdivisions and upscale resorts.

View articles written by Roger Butow Read Roger's full biography on the Staff Page

His resumé is extensive, try an online GOOGLE search of his personal journey and historical accomplishments. His consultation fees are reasonable and if you've got a major project that alarms you, that needs creative intervention, then he's your man. His credentials and "CV" can be provided upon request.

Contact him at his office: (949) 715.1912 or drop him an email:

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Bill Bartell September 21, 2010 3:38 pm (Pacific time)

what Salem-News readers care so much about this, as to want to read through this totally opinionated article ?? 

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