Friday, November 24, 2017
The saga of Ujima Village continues …
By Yussuf J. Simmonds
Published May 30, 2012

Ujima Village …vacated!

Soil contamination causing unhealthy living conditions, causing environmental investigations, resulting in a massive lawsuit, and on and on and on….

Ujima Village, a 300-unit apartment complex in the South Los Angeles/Willowbrook area, was at one time an urban oasis.  It is now vacant.  What caused it to close down has resulted in a myriad of controversial, complex, environmental questions; county, state and federal investigations; in addition to private, corporate investigations, over the years.

Many of the former residents have filed a class action lawsuit and second district Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas – in whose district the complex is located and who was elected to the 2nd district long after this problem was (sic) unearthed – is taking the lead to see that the former residents receive the justice that they deserve in every respect – financially, health-wise and otherwise.

Charlene David, 65 years old, and one of the last of 14 residents to vacate the complex – when she last walked through – said, “We decided we would stay united until the end.” She is a retired county worker who shared the apartment with her husband, and she was surveying the abandoned community center, its laundry, fitness and computer rooms full of cobwebs, just before moving. and concluded, “It’s getting to the end.”

Recently, one of many meetings was held at Enterprise Park, Compton, ostensibly to discuss the long, ongoing causes of the contamination problem at Ujima Village and the surrounding area with officials from the California State Water Board (DSWB), the Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC) and the L.A. Department of Public Health (DPH).  Since 2007, the DSWB has been the lead agency responsible for overseeing the cleanup of the contamination at the Willowbrook site.  The site (officially the Athens Tank Farm) was Ujima Village (residential) and Magic Johnson Regional Park (recreational); the park was operated by L.A. County Department of Parks and Recreation.

(Some history on the ownership and responsibility of the contamination of the site: Exxon-Mobil was the last commercial owner of the property; they owned it for about 40 years.  It was used as a storage and distribution site for petroleum products including a storage for crude-oil, gasoline, diesel fuel and fuel oil.  According to available public records, there were 22 storage tanks and two concrete-lined crude-oil reservoirs).

The Sentinel learned that at the meeting, the people/stakeholders were able to walk around, look at various site maps and informally direct their questions to representatives from the state (DSWB) and county (DPH).  In addition, there was also a more formal Q&A session during the first phase of the meeting.  After which the DSWB provided a presentation related to their investigation before a final Q&A session.

The main point that the water board conveyed was the characterization of the contamination at the site was complete and they were about to begin another phase in the process to clean up the area.  That focus will be to basically conduct the second ‘decontamination’ process at the South and East of the park.

This meeting apparently was strictly about the status of the work being done about the contamination issues … the environment.  There was no mention about any of the legal issues.  However, many of the stakeholders were wearing T-shirts, printed on the front: “United for Willowbrook,” and they also passed out some promotional materials that encouraged everyone to hold ExxonMobil accountable for cleaning up the site.

(Originally, when the contamination issue arose, the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB) ordered those responsible to investigate and cleanup the site. The RWQCB and the DTSC were responsible for reviewing and investigating cleanup of the site, and the oversight assessment of the potential risk of the contamination, respectively. Both departments are part of the California

Environmental Protection Agency).



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