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Jan-31-2010 19:10printcomments

98th MCAS El Toro RAB Meeting: A Year Older and None The Wiser

“Politics: A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.”  Ambrose Bierce

 “Politics: Who Gets What, When And How” Book by Harold D. Lasswell

El Toro tower summer of 2009
El Toro tower summer of 2009 Salem-News.com photo by Bonnie King

(LAGUNA BEACH) - NOTE: Salem-News browsers reading the update of this interminable fiasco, perhaps rereading the article I posted a year ago would help, Mangia Bene!: “Fear and Loathing at MCAS El Toro: Report From the Restoration Advisory Board”

The following is an update on the Restoration Advisory Board (RAB) for Salem-News visitors, and I’ve provided the two quotes above to let these same readers see where we’re headed in this, my second posting about the subject.

I would remind readers that this is my impression of events, if you want the nitty-gritty technological conundrums, the depressing minutiae regarding why all of us are so confused and outraged, go to Salem-News archives. WARNING: Viewing these pieces might be hazardous to your mental health, especially your sense of moral accountability!

To understand both the conversion and the nuances of an emerging ecological nightmare such as this one inquiring minds need to integrate the political will, the atmosphere of Orange County government after the base closure was announced. Add in the listing of this toxic waste dump, this damaged goods conversion from CERCLA to safe development habitation. This revelation obviously ratcheted up the anxiety by Southern cities that unanimously opposed re-use for aviation purposes, cities that pooled millions of their taxpayers dollars to assure that wouldn’t happen.

I address this first because to understand both the conversion itself and the politicizing of an environmental bad dream such as this, one must look back to efforts and coalescing of the now defunct El Toro Reuse Planning Authority.

El Toro's MWSG-37 area - most contaminated part of the base

ETRPA, a Joint Powers Authority, in 1996 was comprised of representatives from the cities of Dana Point, Irvine, Lake Forest, Laguna Hills, Laguna Niguel and Mission Viejo. By 1998, literally EVERY South OC city had joined and was contributing funds to the war chest.

Many other cities and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) throughout the entire County became actively engaged when it became apparent that the fiscal and environmental complexities necessitated massive public scrutiny---And massive voter involvement. The future of those leeches, the almost feudal warlords we call “career politicians” was at stake.

As a function of distance and direction, the closer to the flight paths of incoming/outgoing John Wayne Airport planes, the cities of Newport Beach, Santa Ana Tustin, Orange, et al wanted to shift some of the JWA burden upon an altered, non-military aviation reuse, proposing that El Toro could become a commercial enterprise (maybe the cargo carriers?) or at minimum a municipal facility for the smaller private flights.

Back in the mid-90s, first Measure W and then Measure A initially created the potential conversion to a commercial airport, and they were superceded, may be better to say overturned or reversed, by Measure M.  Keep in mind that 1994 was the year that the County of Orange filed for bankruptcy, government lost the trust of the populace, and fiscal considerations (like adding another airport facility) were dominant in the public’s jaundiced eye and empty coffers.

Campaigns were determined by the pledges (pro and con) of OC Supervisors and other elected officials (councils, water/sanitation districts, etc.) from 1996----2002.  In the South it was basically impossible to find any candidate who supported a commercial airport reuse publicly, regardless of their reservations, their personal thoughts. You were either for it (Measure M) or your career was over if against it.

Hopefully readers can GOOGLE much of what I’ve provided and educate them selves by viewing media archives. Suffice it to say that this single issue split the County into an unprecedented civil war, literally a North vs. South conflict. The residual bitterness, and some of  the divisiveness, remains today in spite of the veneered happy faces, those death grimace, horrid rictus smiles our bureaucrats gleefully paint on their faces for their banal sycophants and photo opportunities.

Thus for the politically naïve or unaware person who attended the RAB meetings from their inception was to be “A Stranger In A Strange Land,” and just like the contaminated soil and aquifer below Irvine City Hall where they take place, much of what happened subsequently has been typical subterranean political subterfuge and sleight of hand.

Overview of the contaminated and closed down El Toro Marine Air Base

Another way to see this is to consider the political agenda as the constant sussurating “background noise”. The actual remediation and conversion are shunted aside, having de-evolved into the “white noise”, a relatively meaningless, distracting commotion or chatter. It’s about priorities, and handing over the keys to the car of this lemon is all that matters at this point. Many of the agenda notes and comments reflect the urgency of that primary goal. The agencies and individuals in positions of power just want it to end. If memory serves, about 10 years ago a Texas judge scolded a rape victim who had attempted to fight off her attacker, subsequently getting beaten half to death. He told her if she was going to be raped, she shouldn’t offer resistance, maybe sit back and enjoy it. The RAB is like that, close our eyes and ears until it’s gratefully over.

Last year, in a funny and not very reassuring twist, it was discovered by local media that the residential element developer, incompetent and perennially defective, nationally litigated LENNAR, had procured a $100 million “Environmental Cleanup Errors and Omissions” policy with (hope you’re sitting down and your food’s settled) AIG---Yeah, THAT AIG!

The RAB group quite frankly doesn’t want to hear about failures or defects in the conversion.  Astute, potentially disruptive questions wind up circling the drain endlessly, enter the dizzy maze of a bureaucratic structure so intentionally byzantine that it boggles the most complex of minds or dogged of investigations. S-N staff writer Bob O’Dowd can testify to that.

So with a fanfare, I give you the 98th Restoration Advisory Board (RAB) Meeting: Wednesday, January 27, 2010. TAH DAH!

I’m a glutton for self-punishment as community watchdogs must be, and certainly bureaucratic, Cover-Your-Ass gatherings like the RAB Meeting has provided its fair share of abuse. I wasn’t disappointed. Moments turned into ho-hum minutes, broken up only by my ridiculous strategy, my gall, by asking specific questions. First an NGO leader shows up (AGAIN), then he has the unmitigated audacity to ask discomforting, incisive questions…..Of all the nerve. Hrumph!

Here it is only late January and, HALLELUJAH!, my projected masochistic “budget” for 2010 has already been topped off. That’ll make the following meetings scheduled painful gravy, right? Now down to quarterly from the initial monthly schedule, only 3 more chances this year to share conference rooms with folks who’d rather be somewhere else, stakeholders who don’t seem to be bothered that I am still the ONLY enviro-activist to monitor their progress in situ---Hey, when you’re on the public taxpayer clock or dole, why let progress get in the way of a good coffee clutch?

FYI: S-C meetings, like technical advisory subcommittees, are usually where the rubber meets the road, and this one is supposed to be no exception. The general meeting is just a medium or mechanism for ALL of the paid dunderheads to congratulate each other on how totally bitchen they all are, what a great though basically non-existent job they’re doing, savor the lack of product.

Fields' famous moment in 1985. Courtesy: wofflings.wofflehouse.com

The chosen elite, the authorized facilitators ALWAYS mumble and dither about in hermetic, industry acronyms resembling an obscure language like Sanskrit, so if you’re not in the know you comprehend zero, zilch, nada, bupkus.  At the general meeting you half expect Sally Fields to stand up as she did at the Oscars in 1985 and shriek “You like me right now, you like me!” And no, dear readers, I’ll never be giving that acceptance speech at this venue.

Segue to my take on the one (1) hour RAB Sub-Committee confab followed by the general assembly pow wow. Just like a year ago, the S-C had no organizational structure, no written agenda, no self-introductions, nothing resembling the usual  protocols, policies and procedures of most public meetings.

It was notable for a few surprises: Chair Marcia Rude-olph, über-obnoxious and recalcitrant at last year’s meeting, was somewhat civil, although this may have occurred due to the attendance of a civilian engineer and a new USEPA liaison. Wow! What a difference a year makes. Now we had 5 people present after last year’s pitiful 4.

Unfortunately, a strawberry blonde for the 10+ years I’ve known her, Marcia inexplicably had tinted her hair Bozo The Clown Red. Seriously. The strangest shade of lava or fire engine red, combined with her frizzy texture it was quite the fright….Which might have been its esoteric purpose, perhaps to ward off evil (anti-government) fringies, intimidate or stifle civilian interrogatories?

I know, I know, ladies, women “of a certain age” do experiment with color, length, style, etc. and away with the male chauvinist pig criticism, yes? But really, why didn’t some one in her circle of acquaintances tell her that wearing a “Full ‘Fro” equivalent of a flaming stop sign on one's head was a major fashion mistake, a walking, saturated neon fiasco? I must admit, I found myself transfixed, mesmerized, my original agenda diverted, I was transported back in time, I was 9 years old and watching Bozo on TV from the floor of my home in 1955.  I recovered just in time to do my Q & A.

Which is to say that (déjà vu all over again), it morphed into the by now well-worn path of very circuitous, follow-the-bouncing-ball format. It was like a well-rehearsed play by aging thespians, a tale told by fools, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing as Shakespeare might observe. I represented chaos, an element of incoherency that like an invading microbe required bodily rejection or at least sequestering firewalls.

The 'Great Park' project is an ongoing attempt to ignore the base's deadly
hazards. Summer 2009 Salem-News.com photo by Tim King

The highlight, I kid you not, was their mutual childish glee when discussing possible festivities for the centennial, the 100th RAB meeting, probably taking place in August.  Burning questions like: Would their hosts offer Starbucks instead of store bought coffee? Maybe an iced cake in the shape of an abandoned contaminated hangar or perhaps an F-16 Fighting Falcon dropping perchlorate-laden bombs? Balloon rides on that big orange monstrosity hovering on the proposed Great Incredible Shrinking Park site? If sarcastic minds prevailed, might the cake resemble the complex molecular structure of TCE?

Nonetheless, this anniversary concept intrigued the Hell out of them. I began wondering if I hadn’t shown up would they have discussed ANYTHING pertinent about their mission statement?

The written and verbal propaganda circulated by Mr. Jim Callian (Base Realignment and Closure Enviro Coordinator) states that environmental restoration is RAB’s sole focus, NOT fast-tracking reuse. That is in my opinion an outright, outrageous lie.  It is refuted by the S-C discussions and by the general meeting one as well.

RAB is about closing the federal and state environmental impact responsibility book on this mess. Ms. Rude-olph’s S-C chairing (she’s on the immediately adjacent Lake Forest City Council) is a way to assure it. If the conversion and handing over the keys gets held up, if the general public and the potential home or land owners discover the extent of the long term ecological impairment and balk, then ETRPA’s constituents will look bad, embarrassingly so. To admit the extent of their rehab failures would be suicide. Being a politician, in love with yourself, is never having to say you’re sorry, never admit conspiratorial culpability.

The City of Irvine and its power structure (follow the money) have finally been revealed to be the primary, perhaps ONLY ones who will financially benefit---them, and their sole-sourced, non-competitive bid vendors chums (read corporate, campaign donating cronies).

Ironic too is though Irvine is pitched to be the United States safest city above ground, below it is grotesquely scarred. Subterranean Irvine is the municipal version of “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” idyllic on the outside but rotting from the inside as contaminants make their death march and slowly migrate under the whole region.

Those of us trying to blow the whistle, to play Paul Revere, sometimes refer to ourselves as “TEAM EL TORO.”  I hope and pray that Salem-News readers appreciate the constant, uncompensated efforts of this working group. Awareness of this fatally flawed base closure, of this conversion and others like it across our nation merits more cynicism, more skepticism, more inspection, and more scientifically independent investigation. Not to mention formal Congressional hearings.

After all, the price of a healthy and safe environment is, like liberty, constant vigilance. When it comes to MCAS El Toro, if you live around here, be afraid. Be very afraid.

Roger Butow articles on Salem-News.com:


Launched in 2010, Odd Man Out is the creation of Roger von Bütow, a professional environmental consultant. Written exclusively for the Salem-News, it's intended as the next evolutionary step on the path of an eco-warrior.

Roger is a Southern California native who spent his formative years as a racial minority: A blonde-haired, blue-eyed surfer on the mean streets of the LA Harbor area. Running from gangs eventually trained him for his high school and collegiate track and cross-country career. Going to college part-time, disqualified for a student deferment, when his draft notice arrived in a fit of machisimo he joined the USMC in 1965, eventually attached to the 3rd Marine Air Wing.

Once honorably discharged, he resumed his college studies, majoring in philosophy. He dropped out in early 1972 when an opportunity to travel in Europe inexpensively for 6 months was too good to pass up. Upon returning, he and his former wife ended up in Laguna Beach, and though the marriage didn’t last his love of the place is in its 38th year.

Disgusted by chronic sewage spills and toxic urban runoff pollution that triggered constant beach closures in his area, he formed “Clean Water Now!” in 1998. Local surfers, skimmers and divers were pissed off, but there wasn’t a cohesive, unified and aggressive group response, zero leadership or activism facilitated by the Surfrider Foundation or Sierra Club regarding water quality impairment issues. You can write to Roger at: rogerbutow@mac.com

SEE STAFF LINK FOR THE REMAINDER OF ROGER'S BIOGRAPHY




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Warren February 5, 2010 1:51 pm (Pacific time)

I was stationed at Camp Lejeune from October 1968 through March 1970. I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in June 2007. At the time of my diagnosis I had no idea how I contracted the cancer. Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is not contracted from other people nor is it an inheritable disease. It is caused by being exposed to chemicals like TCE, PCE, benzene, and PCB’s. At the time, I had no idea I had ever been exposed to these chemicals. Ironically, in June 2007, I saw a story on CNN.com about the water contamination at Camp Lejeune and a marine who contracted lymphoma. The Marine in the story believed his lymphoma was caused by the water contamination at Camp Lejeune. Since then, I learned that El Toro Marine Air Base in California also had similar water contamination problems. I was also stationed at El Toro from March 1969 through June 1970. Of my 24 months in the Marine Corps, 21 of them were spent at bases with contaminated water containing solvents that are known to cause various cancers, including Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I appreciate all of the media outlets carrying this story and I hope it will enable those Marines who have been affected by the water contamination at Camp Lejeune and other military bases to win their cases.


Roger von Bütow February 2, 2010 7:08 am (Pacific time)

They say that unless you catch a politician in a hotel room at 3 am with a nude 8 year old boy or a dead hooker, you'll probably keep your job. It's hard to embarrass this type of person. Keep in mind that there are other base conversions in progress or in the immediate past that have similar elements of intrigue and questionable success. It is, as a Marine, difficult to understand how a nation can encourage, can give lip service to your vow to give your life for whatever agenda your President creates. In a sense, each of us also offered up our families lives too in case we died or were maimed. It's become obvious: The work this past few years by Bob O'Dowd, Salem-News staff and other Team El Toro members is like an excavation of very dense soil, basically blasting through the rocky membrane or barriers of protection the RAB has defensively erected. These people have inertia on their side, that and the ignorance or gullibility of the public. Whether a Marine serving at El Toro, a civilian vendor (teachers, etc.) or someone in the vicinity, they are banking on attrition. They think we'll go away, and by drip-feeding, begrudging us information by the time our legal position is secured those affected will all be senile or dead. Great huh? Like the WW II movie, "We Are Expendable." This is a really sick (pun intended) way to show appreciation for those of us who felt a swelling pride in serving a higher purpose. El Toro, like the other rehabs, is a crime in progress, but the criminals control the game board. Look how the Bush Administration put off acknowledging the effects of TCE for 8 years? If you have health problems possibly effected by TCE and you're healthy, fiscally set, great. But if you're on a small fixed income, dealing with outrageous medical bills and a VA that denies the TCE/Cancer connection, your only choice (and your loved ones) is cremation or burial? You can't even donate your organs to save another life: You are damaged goods, worthwhile when serving, waste to be dumped when they're done with you. More recent veterans affected by their exposure to pollutants, whether in Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc., aren't getting treated much better. Sorry for the indelicate analogy, but it's tough not to be outraged when you're used like a prophylactic, tossed in the trash when it's over. Marines bond, we're brothers regardless of skin color, whether you cleaned latrines or held an M-60, and our Uncle Sam uses that during conflict. We're now using that bond because we're at war with our own government.


Go Team Go February 1, 2010 12:00 pm (Pacific time)

Team El Toro, we're counting on you! Thanks for all the information you're uncovering, its the only way for any of us to make informed decisions. We have a right to know.


Troy Alder February 1, 2010 10:39 am (Pacific time)

Thanks for this Mr. Butow. I find the history of this base to be very alarming. What happens next? Do these 'government officials' have any idea how they appear?

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©2017 Salem-News.com. All opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Salem-News.com.


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