Pictured: Southern California Gas Compression site on Olive Street in West Ventura. Google Earth image. 

by Kimberly Rivers

Local residents called for a public hearing about a soil contamination cleanup plan at the West Ventura site of a current Southern California Gas Company (SoCal Gas) compressor facility. The plan has been approved, no hearing has taken place and the cleanup is slated to start in April. 

The California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) has approved a Removal Action Workplan (RAW) that state officials say will remediate soil contamination that occurred mostly decades ago when the facility was used to manufacture gas through a process of burning oil called gasification.  Those operations were started in the 1920s by another company. 

Local residents expressed concerns during the recent public comment period about several aspects of the RAW, including that it will leave contamination in the soil and that it fails to address concerns about impacts to air quality of the diesel trucks that will be used to transport the contaminated soil for disposal. Community concerns also target what residents say is an “expansion” of the gas compressor site, an issue DTSC says is outside it’s scope. 

A document dated March 2, 2021, issued by DTSC, states that the cleanup will include “excavation of soils impacted with the chemicals of concern (COCs) in the southern portion of the Site, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), total petroleum hydrocarbons (TPH), arsenic and lead. The excavated areas will be backfilled with clean soil and a Land Use Covenant (LUC) will restrict use of the property and prohibit residential use.”

That document also declares the cleanup exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) because it will not have a “significant adverse” impact on the immediate area. 

But local residents and advocacy organizations have said a deeper cleaning is needed, based on DTSC’s own findings, to ensure public safety. Those residents also called for the local public hearing.

“It’s infuriating that DTSC is denying our community the right to ask questions and have an accessible public hearing for all residents affected,” said Tomás Rebecchi, a resident of West Ventura and senior organizer with Food and Water Watch. He said the community was never informed that SoCal Gas plans to “double the size” of the compressor station that was found to be leaking methane in 2017.

SoCal Gas reports those leaks have been repaired. 

“There are far too many unanswered questions after an initial outreach process that was both inadequate and inconsistent,” said Rebecchi. “We are tired of being the sacrifice zone for SoCalGas and oil companies.” 

The West Ventura neighborhood overlays the Ventura Oil Field. 

In a document dated Feb. 25, 2021 the DTSC cited “lack of public interest” in denying those requests for a hearing, saying over 300 notices and surveys were mailed out in November 2020 and only eight responses were received at that time. 

Liz Campos, chair of Ventura’s Westside Community Council. June, 2020. Photo by Kimberly Rivers.

“DTSC claims people in the area aren’t interested in this issue,” said Liz Campos, chair of the Westside Community Council. “But that is absolutely false.” She said the survey was sent “at the height of the pandemic in November,” and at a time when mail service was “known to be delayed by weeks.” Campos pointed to the numerous families outside of the notice area who will be impacted by the gas compressor facility expansion, “including parents of children who will be attending [E.P. Foster Elementary School] or the Boys and Girls Club. If the Westside Community Council was given notice about this, we could have conducted a bilingual and inclusive hearing to make sure everyone affected could get information and ask questions. I find it insulting and condescending to say there is a lack of interest from residents on the Westside.”

The Housing Authority of the City of San Buenaventura submitted a comment of concern, that confirmed their offices were not noticed. DTSC acknowledged the organization’s offices were just outside the notice area boundary. The Housing Authority owns properties in the area that house 320 families.

The SoCalGas site is 8.5 acres in total. The clean up plan applies to 4.3 acres of that area, which is currently used as a storage and maintenance yard in support of the gas compressor facility. The storage buildings on that 4.3-acre area will be demolished as part of the cleanup plan. The area has residential and commercial properties nearby and E.P. Foster Elementary School is less than a quarter mile from the site. 

DTSC documents state the agency does not regulate the gas compressor site and reports the plans for the site are a “modernization” of the facility. The RAW approved by DTSC, however, does mandate the “implementation of the Operations and Maintenance Plan” designed to address “vapor intrusion risks within the proposed compressor building.” 

The RAW includes excavation and offsite transport of “approximately 1,700 cubic yards (2,500 tons) of shallow soil impacted with carcinogenic PAHs, TPH, arsenic, and lead.” The area will be backfilled using “clean fill material,” brought in on approximately 106 truck trips. A LUC will “preclude residential development or other sensitive uses.” 

The initial “depth of excavation” called out in the RAW will be about 3.5 feet bgs (below ground surface) but the plan states “the actual depth will be determined during the removal action based on field observation and the results of confirmation sample analyses.”

The plan also allows excavated contaminated soil to be stored onsite in compliance with “the requirements of Ventura County Air Pollution Control District (VCAPCD).” 

The project site is located at 1555 N. Olive St., Ventura. 

Officials from SoCalGas did not respond to inquiries. 

All documents including public comments and responses are online at: www.envirostor.dtsc.ca.gov/public/profile_report.asp?global_id=56490101