Pictured: Burro Flats painting included in NASA National Register of Historic Places registration form. Photo by D. Gandy. 

by Kimberly Rivers


The Ventura County Cultural Heritage Board (VCCHB) has a special meeting set for Monday, June 29 at 2:15 p.m. to consider a request by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to create the Burro Flats Cultural District overlying the Santa Susana Field Lab land that is slated for clean up from a partial nuclear meltdown and rocket testing activities decades ago. (Update: June 28: The meeting time has been corrected. It will take place at 2:15 p.m.)

NASA has applied to designate the Burro Flats Cultural District as part of the process to have the site listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. That process requires the California State Historical Resources Commission to receive input from the VCCHB. 

The application declares that the site should be designated a special district because “Burro Flats … is a Traditional Cultural Property eligible for the National Register of Historic Places at the local level of significance under Criterion A in the areas of Ethnic Heritage: Native American and Religion for its association with ceremonial solstice events.” The application states that interviews with consultants with knowledge of the cultural significance took place in 2013, 2016 and 2018. 

The site is contaminated with carcinogenic compounds left over from a 1959 partial nuclear meltdown and many years of testing of rocket fuel and other exercises, which were covered up by the companies and the federal government until the late 1970s when students at UCLA found documents describing the events. 

California Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Jared Blumenfeld has been pressuring the California Department of Toxic Substances Control to properly enforce clean up orders that require the U.S. Department of Energy, NASA and Boeing to clean up the site. 

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Committee to Bridge the Gap, two non-governmental organizations supporting a full clean up, have submitted comments to the VCCHB stating that the special district is an attempt by the responsible parties to “evade” cleaning up the site. 

“NASA is committed to completing the long-term cleanup of the NASA administered SSFL property and the listing of the Burro Flats Cultural District as Traditional Cultural Property in the National Register of Historic Places will not change or impact NASA’s commitment or responsibility to cleanup,” said Matthew Rydin, press secretary with NASA. “NASA remains committed to achieving a cleanup at SSFL that is protective of public health and the environment. The Traditional Cultural Property nomination and boundary are based on research and interviews with members of local Native American tribes and regional scholars.” (Updated, June 25, 1:16 p.m.)

While the VCCHB is not the final decision maker regarding the special district designation, the state has informed the county that “your commission may prepare a report as to whether or not such property, in its opinion, meets the criteria for the National Register.”

The draft special district designation states, “Burro Flats Cultural District is a Traditional Cultural Property (TCP) aligned with the boundaries of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL), 2,850 acres of open, rocky terrain above the Simi Valley in the Santa Susana Mountain Range.”

The fact that one site within that boundary contains indigenous people’s artifacts and paintings is being used as criteria for the special district designation for the entire Santa Susana Field Lab property. 

The agenda and project packets is online at: www.vcrma.org/cultural-heritage-board-meetings-and-agendas

Written public comments can be submitted prior to the meeting no later than 10 a.m. on Monday, June 29, 2020. Send to Dillan Murray, project planner, Dillan.Murray@Ventura.org. Comments may not exceed 250 words. All comments received prior to the deadline which are 250 words or less will be read into the record by staff. Comments greater than 250 words will be distributed to the Cultural Heritage Board at the hearing and included in the public record. 

The June 29 meeting is open to the public. 

To listen by phone: Call: (669) 900-9128 or (346) 248-7799 or (646) 558- 8656 or (253) 215-8782 or (301) 715-8592 or (312) 626-6799. Webinar ID: 89459809870. Participant ID: 032294. Mute the microphone on your phone. Dial *9 to indicate you’d like to comment. 

To watch the meeting online: Registration required. Go to ZOOM HERE
 Participant ID: 032294.