Ord In The Court!
A group of irate civilians takes on the Army.
Thursday, May 17, 2001
Housing Activists Prefer Haines: Pacific Grove attorney Jane Haines thinks the current system for distributinginclusionary housing cheats those who lack schmoozing skills.
The Army has been sued over Fort Ord. Again. This time it''s over the 1999 disbandment of the ill-fated Restoration Advisory Board (RAB), the citizens'' group that formed to oversee the cleanup of toxics on Fort Ord. On May 11, three former members of the RAB, as well as four locals who used to attend the public meetings, sued the Army, the Department of Defense and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for eradicating the group. By breaking up the body that served as a citizens'' representative at the former base, the plaintiffs claim, the Army acted in an "unlawful" manner.
Congress created RABs in 1986 as part of the Defense Environmental Restoration Program, which sought to force better compliance by the armed services on the cleanup of Superfund sites. Congress made RABs mandatory to empower communities to participate in every stage of the mop-up process.
The Fort Ord RAB was established in 1994, shortly after the base closed. From the start the RAB and the Army just couldn''t seem to get along.
"The Army was trying to limit what the RAB was able to address," says former RAB member Curt Gandy. "They were trying to tell us what we should be concerned about." The unhappy union ended in 1999, two years after a consultant hired by the Environmental Protection Agency to assess the RAB harshly criticized its performance. In May 1999, the Army "adjourned" the RAB, calling it "ineffective."
With over 200 such citizen advisory groups at closed military bases around America, the freshly filed federal suit over the Fort Ord RAB is rare because RABs aren''t broken up often.
"Other RABs around the country are looking at this," says Gandy, a former civilian employee at Fort Ord who has led the charge for accountability of environmental damage on the 28,000-acre facility.
Gandy was a health and safety officer for union employees on the base from 1981 to 1994 and served on the RAB from 1994 to 1997. Today Gandy directs the Fort Ord Toxics Project, which he began in 1994 before the RAB was established. The Toxics Project has brought two recent suits over the base. A suit against the Army over unexploded ordnance was settled in court recently, and another over landfill remediation is pending. The Toxics Project environmental defense fund is also party to the new RAB suit.
"We''re about holding these guys accountable for what they''re supposed to be doing," Gandy says.
What the Army is "supposed to be doing" is following federal guidelines for the remediation of shuttered government facilities, which at Fort Ord means dealing with unexploded ordnance and toxic waste.
Since there is no RAB these days, the Army has been holding Community Involvement Workshops. Critics say they are sparsely attended and less democratic than the RAB was. Without a RAB, the people don''t have a seat at the table during the decision-making process, says Scott Allen, the San Francisco attorney representing Gandy and the former RAB members. They can go on the record during the public comment period after decisions are made, but now the public has no input on meeting agendas. Allen calls the Army''s interaction with the public little more than a "dog and pony show."
"The Army chooses what it wants to tell the public and it may not be timely and it may not be complete," he says.
The Weekly contacted several Army officials for this story, but comments were not forthcoming.
With the exception of a new suit over the disbandment of a RAB at McClellan AFB in Sacramento, the Fort Ord case breaks new ground.
"This is an unlawful action on the part of the Army, indeed," says Saul Bloom, the director of ArcEcology a grassroots coalition of RABs. Bloom notes that the way the Army has managed the issues here has been problematic.
"We work with RABs all over the country and the situation [at Fort Ord] is quite upsetting," he says.
Bloom acknowledges that the members of the Fort Ord RAB could be "mercurial" and there was some anger directed at the Army, but, he says, "That''s not a rationale for closing down the RAB."
theWeeklyTally6 The number of building permits for apartments that got final approval from the county between January 1999 and February 2001. In that period of time, the county approved 596 permits for standalone houses.
--Source: County of Monterey Planning & Building Inspection Dept.