ENCINITAS — City Council members agreed to hold off on accepting a final project “closure” report due to issues surrounding pesticide-contaminated soil at a Hymettus Avenue housing development site during their first meeting of the New Year Jan. 11.
Council members said a representative from the county’s Department of Environmental Health (the lead agency that produced the report) would need to attend a future meeting to answer questions about how the soil remediation work was done before receiving the report.
Several nearby residents of the 5.6-acre property told council members they did not trust the report’s findings.
Beginning last spring, neighbors raised concerns about the project with the council and the Planning Commission.
Ken Redler, who lives adjacent to the development, told the council that in the spring of 2011, his family and other neighbors were forced out of their homes during the grading of the pesticide-laden soil.
Prior to construction the former nursery site was found to have high levels of the pesticide Dieldrin in the soil.
“The developer has shown they are willing to put our health at risk to save a few bucks,” Redler told the council. He said the developer could not be trusted.
The landowners were directed to take remedial measures to ensure the pesticides were far below ground. The company, City Ventures Inc. of Santa Ana, was required to bury 20 430-cubic yards of contaminated soil under 7-feet of clean top soil as a condition of the city’s permitting process.
Soon after grading began, neighbors complained to both county and city officials that the contractors on the site were stirring up pesticide-contaminated dust that was blowing onto their properties.
As a result, they reported experiencing severe headaches, dizziness, sore throats, rashes, and vomiting.
Julie McGill, who lives near the site, said the neighbors were not informed about when the contaminated soil was to be buried. She said the information could have at least allowed them to take precautions.
“Instead of relying on the county, I think the city should take a more proactive approach in keeping its citizens safe,” she told the council.
Planning director Patrick Murphy said the city inspected the remediation work after it concluded last summer and found that some impacted soils had not been buried deep enough to meet the 7-foot burial standard. City engineer Greg Shields said someone from the city was present at the site in response to the concerns each day of construction.
Some soil deemed “questionable” was removed and transported off the site in response, according to Murphy.
Russell Levan, a Leucadia resident gave the council a visual representation of the scope of the impacted area. He said that 20 430-cubic yards equaled 6,810 dumpsters worth of soil. Lined up side by side, the soil would span over 7 miles.
He questioned how the developer could accurately calculate where the contaminated soil should be buried. “They have a pretty shoddy record,” he said regarding the developer’s failure to follow the proper procedures for burying contaminated soil.
Julie Redler, another resident who lives nearby said the construction has been a nightmare.
“We had to move out of our house for weeks,” she said. “I have zero confidence that the developer knows what they’re doing.”
Councilman Mark Muir asked city staff what the council could do to help the residents.
“We’re not experts in environmental health,” Murphy responded. “We rely on DEH (Department of Environmental Health) and their process.”
Deputy Mayor Kristin Gaspar said there were too many unanswered questions to receive the final report. She requested that the issue be postponed until a representative from the county agency came before the council to offer further explanations.
“It really does disappoint me that from our city no further notice was required (to the residents after the initial grading permit was granted),” she said. “The fact that we didn’t reach out to the community and let them know that further remediation was taking place is very disappointing.”
Councilwoman Teresa Barth said that with the redevelopment of greenhouses across the city she was concerned with the process of review.
Barth said the problem was not going to go away and encouraged staff to investigate incentives for potential developers to use environmentally sound remediation of contaminated soil.