By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
But LAUSD documents clearly indicate that 12 to 20 feet of original topsoil from the site were removed and replaced with "clean fill." One such statement, by attorney Jim Wakefield, proclaims that to be exposed to any residual contamination, one would have "to dig a hole 20 feet deep and stand in it." According to Duran, who was more responsible for grading and construction than any other LAUSD official, the residual contamination on the surface soil was not removed at all, certainly not to a depth of 20 feet. And the district is silent on the question of whether any dirt was excavated from beneath the footprint of the buildings. However, a district document from March 1995 poses the question "Can all remaining [remediation] work be done outside of building footprint? If not, may interfere with construction schedule." If, as critics suspect, the district did place the school on dirt contaminated with decades of industrial spillage, health and liability concerns may escalate. That scenario, if proven, would mean that the district compromised mandated health-and-safety agreements for the expedient construction of a school which eventually stood empty for a year.
Why the school remains open during this period of uncertainty strikes critics as the ultimate act of environmental racism. Legislators Hayden and Wildman as well as Jorge Mancillas, a neurobiologist called to testify at the hearings, each said they would not send their children to Jefferson in its current state. "Do you think this would be allowed on the Westside of Los Angeles?" Hayden said in a statement. "I don't." Mancillas, who witnessed a district press conference proclaiming Jefferson's safety, shook his head afterward. "I wasn't sure whether they were being irresponsible or incompetent. After today, I think they do understand what's at stake and they're trying to evade it."
At the same time they declared Jefferson safe, district officials announced a sweeping plan to expand the independence of the Environmental Health and Safety Branch, and to draft an agreement designating its onetime nemsis, the state Department of Toxic Substances Control, as lead agency for all future oversight.
Upon hearing the news, Hamid Arabzadeh alternately gasped and laughed. The former head of the L.A. school district's Environmental Health and Safety Branch, fired shortly after testifying before Wildman's committee that he would have done more thorough site assessments, is suing the district for wrongful termination, but feels he has already won a victory. "Everything I fought over for the health and safety of children in this district is being achieved," he said of the new plan. "These were all reforms I struggled over. They told me I'd be fired if I wanted to work the DTSC. Children of all classes can claim victory."
But the power and politics behind the district's past and future of environmental practices leave room for doubt. "The distrust is certainly understandable," commented school-district environmental consultant Angelo Bellomo. "In issues with chemicals, health and the public, it's easy for distrust to develop. But unless we have trust, it is very hard to forge a solution. When you lose trust, it is very hard to gain it back."