By Nick Kipley
“There is a case called Baca versus Moreno Valley and everybody should read it: If any person in this room wants to criticize a council member, a staff member, a mayor—anybody by name—[they are] allowed to by law,” said Riverside Resident Vivian Moreno during the public comment section which kicked off Monday night’s eight-hour City Council meeting in Pasadena. “I just want to make it clear that if anybody calls anybody out there is case law and, again, it is called Baca versus Moreno Valley. Today I’m going to discuss the $270,000 payout from Siobhan Foster and your [ex-] finance director [Andrew Green]. You public deserve a professional staff.” Gesturing to the crowd of about a hundred people packed into the Council Chamber, Moreno continued, “These people paid [Foster and Green the combined] salaries of about seven-hundred thousand dollars a year.”
Moreno explained that she reached this figure by adding salaries plus additional benefits. Although this number is much higher than the official number of $276,341.18 that Pasadena claims was paid to the former city employees, Pasadena did officially report to the Independent that Foster was compensated $33,198.21 for her work this year plus benefits.
Assuming the city only paid her for the two-weeks’ worth of business days she served this year, that comes out to $2,371.30 a day and, assuming she put in eight-hour days each day, that comes out to $296.41 an hour. Or: roughly nine times the rate of a city electrical construction worker tasked with burying power lines. This figure is also is much higher than the City of Pasadena’s highest monthly rate of pay listed for “Director of Public Works” on the city’s employment website, which is set at $16,649.91.
Monday the 26th of last month would have been the appropriate date for the Mayor or City Manager to discuss the matter of these payouts with the public; but since that never happened, the crowd emitted murmurs of disapproval.
“When you pay that much money, you want quality,” Moreno added.
The next person to take the stand was another woman from Riverside advocating for responsible management. “My name is Marilyn Whitney,” she said, “and I am a member of the Agricultural Park family that was left behind in Riverside, California.
“In 2003, Siobhan Foster went out to inspect a toxic spill that happened in our neighborhood and this is what we got.” At this point, Ms. Whitney unrolled and then brandished a two-foot by two-foot image of a black, slick-looking substance mixed in with the dirt of a construction site, “This is our toxic mess.”
Ms. Whitney then explained that of the chemicals found in an analysis of the sludge, some were in excess of 9,000 times the federally mandated “safe” limit.
Putting down the photo of the sludge, Ms. Whitney then unrolled another scroll. This one containing a map of a residential neighborhood covered with multicolored dots. There were hundreds of yellow dots all organized around a big vacant space in the middle of the houses, labeled, “Ag Park.” It was a map of a cancer cluster.
“This map will show you where the Ag Park is. Right here in this yellow area. And these [dots represent] all the sicknesses and deaths that we now have in our area. We’ve lost too many family members.”
Murmurs from the audience became articulate mutterings. The Independent notes that, “Oh, wow,” was the most common thing muttered in the southern portion of the Council Chamber. And then, when Ms. Whitney spoke next, it became clear why Ms. Moreno had mentioned the case law Baca Versus Moreno Valley.
“Siobhan Foster and Michael Beck,” Ms. Whitney said, “I have the documents right here with your signature on it. You knew about it the whole time. From 2003 to 2006 [cleanup] was left off because the City [of Riverside] said, ‘We don’t have money to clean that up.’ What should have been a Superfund (which is the word for when the Federal Government takes control of an area deemed contaminated with hazardous waste and cleans it up under strict, scientific guidelines) became a volunteer [site].”
And then she addressed Mr. Beck personally, “A result of either lack of caring, or lack of knowledge, it doesn’t matter. You left these lives exposed to this toxic spill for eleven years. We have forty-five deaths. We have, in one family, four cases of thyroid disease. And there’re three-hundred and fifty homes there and they’re all marked with contamination. Thank you for leaving us with that. A qualified City Manager would have known what to do. This should have been more than a Superfund. You ignored the facts. And you ignored the seriousness of the spill. Along with the chemicals—you won’t believe,” said Ms. Whitney, shaking her head, “Some of them even equal in their [toxic] capacity to Agent Orange.”
By this point every member of council was scrutinizing Ms. Whitney as she held her map. Mr. Beck’s face was racked with emotions that the Independent does not know how to accurately describe. In the back of the crowded room people were now talking low and freely amongst themselves.
“The AG Park Family refuses to sweep this under the rug. While they’re filling their pockets, we’re filling coffins.” Ms. Whitney said, “And now [a developer called] AHV homes wants to build there because a contractor swapped land with the city so he could clean it up and help himself. What is going to happen to those new families that move in because this is not cleaned up? Are their children going to die? Was it really worth looking the other way?”
The Independent would like to note that when this last sentence was uttered, two women seated deep in the audience literally gasped.
“You need to be forthcoming and help the AG Park family; Mr. Beck, we’re going to depend on you to do the honest thing and give up your membership to the Good Ol’ Boys’ Club.”
Ms. Whitney then thanked the Council and left council chambers along with Ms. Moreno.