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State calls on IUSD to Conduct New Tests at Portola High School Site


The State of California’s Office of Department of Toxic Substances Control, reacting to a petition of residents and data collected via public records act requests, is requiring Irvine Unified to conduct new and more thorough testing of the soil on the campus of the under-construction Portola High School on the site of the El Toro base.

From the Register’s story:  This additional sampling will assess the site for the potential presence of contaminants that could pose a threat to the health of individuals who attend classes or work at the school, or people who might otherwise use the school’s property,” agency chief Barbara Lee wrote in a March 2 letter obtained by the Register to Irvine Unified’s John Fogarty, assistant superintendent of business services.

Late last week, members of the IUSD community (of which I am one) received the below letter from IUSD Superintendent Terry Walker who cites “misleading information disseminated in the community about the school site.”

Mr. Walker isn’t telling parents, teachers, students and Irvine residents the entire story either, so we’re offering the letter sent to Larry Agran by Barbara Lee, director of the State of California’s Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC).  We’ll urge readers to view Lee’s letter and compare it to what Walker wrote to ascertain Walker’s claim that “the DTSC has now asked IUSD to collect additional “confirmational” samples to reaffirm the safety of the site”: because the term “confirmational samples” is nowhere in Lee’s letter to Agran.  The term does appear in an email exchange between IUSD officials and the DTSC but it’s conformational, not confirmational … A typo perhaps because the words have different meanings.

Lee reports the DTSC had concluded that “further subsurface sampling should be conducted at the site” to determine “the potential presence of contaminants that could pose a threat to the health of individuals who attend classes or work at the school, or people who might otherwise use the school’s property.”

Here’s Walker’s letter, dated March 4, 2016:

Dear IUSD Community,

This August, IUSD will open Portola High School, Irvine’s fifth comprehensive high school.  While there is considerable excitement about the opening of our new school, there continues to be misleading information disseminated in the community about the school site, which is on the former El Toro Marine Base.  I would like to take this opportunity to share information with you about IUSD’s actions to ensure the safety of the site.

Throughout the multi-year process, IUSD has worked with all necessary agencies and experts to vet and ensure the safety of the site.  In analyzing and determining the best location for Portola High School, IUSD’s process, procedures and findings have been based on the scientific studies, tested principles and protocols of such agencies as the California Department of Education, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), the California Department of Public Health, the Department of the Navy, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  This well-documented and comprehensive process has been provided on our website, presented in Board Meetings, shared with the City Council, discussed at public events and with an array of diverse stakeholders such as the PTA, the Irvine Public Schools Foundation and community supporters.

Further, in 2014, the DTSC and the California Department of Education determined that the Portola High School site met the required state approvals for the development of the high school and gave IUSD the “green light” to move forward with the school’s construction.  As the lead environmental agency on this project, the DTSC has been responsible for providing oversight of the required testing and for analyzing the results.  Throughout this process, the DTSC has confirmed the safety and suitability of the site.

To date, the District has conducted more than 200 tests throughout the school site.  Based on the results, the DTSC documented there is no threat to public health or the environment.  As part of this continued oversight, the DTSC has now asked IUSD to collect additional “confirmational” samples to reaffirm the safety of the site.  IUSD will begin this process immediately and will analyze additional soil samples.  The District will continue to fully comply with the DTSC’s requirements, protocols and procedures, in addition to state and local laws.

The DTSC believes this work can be done quickly with “little or no impact” to our construction – the timeline for opening the school remains unchanged.  IUSD will provide you with regular updates, including all test results.  As with all other Irvine schools, Portola High School will continue IUSD’s tradition of excellence and the Irvine community will be proud of its next comprehensive high school.

For more information about the Portola High School site and a history of IUSD actions and DTSC documents, please visit iusd.org/portolaconstruction.

Thank you for your engagement and support of our students and schools, which enables I
USD to best serve our students.


Terry L. Walker
​Superintendent of Schools, Irvine Unified School District​   

Here is Lee’s Letter to Agran dated March 2.  An important detail omitted in Walker’s letter: The State is calling for further investigation on the source of contamination found near a pipeline and a storm drain that was “unanticipated.”

The project is costing taxpayers $300 million and Walker told the Register he doesn’t anticipate the additional testing will slow the construction of the school for its August opening.

The question I continue to ask which no one seems to have an answer for is what happened to those dumptruck loads of soil removed from the school site for contamination?  If the loads were dumped, that’s one thing.  If they were incinerated, it points to a very serious problem with the site.  No one seems to know.



  3 comments for “State calls on IUSD to Conduct New Tests at Portola High School Site

  1. Michael St Claire
    March 8, 2016 at 2:34 pm

    Yes that is interesting that there is no disclosure were trucks of dirt went and permits to transport it. I hope it was disposed of properly not just moved and used for infill at another location like Central Park West which was doing major infill around same time.
    What is Heritage Fields liability under environmental hazard disclosure laws for the land?
    Is is also interesting that Irvine Company held off even mention Portola High till adding to websites of there Villages till just recently when they have an investment of $135 Million in Portola High building. Usual they sell there communities on the new schools coming and IUSD reputation.
    Also what was the motivation of the IUSD PTA President at the time of approval of this site Dr Sharon Wigal in getting all the PTA School Presidents of Irvine Schools to sign off on this project site being so safe?
    Why are officials that don’t live or have kids in Irvine Unified School District so fast to belittle parents that want to make sure their kids are safe?
    Why would school official at School Board of Education say it was 100% safe which is pretty bold? Plus what a Board Member who sits on Company Boards that deal with risk and liability of hazard issues say it is so safe?

    With all the talk of inequality at Board Meeting and bond issue why all the overload on new schools with amenities when other schools don’t have doors on rooms or enough bathrooms for number of students $300 Million Dollar High School to open with 450 students.

    Why is area so safe for Portola High School but not safe for Veterans Cemetery?

    saw a quote from Warren Buffett that sort of fits this.
    “It takes 20 years to build a reputation, It takes five minutes to ruin it.

    • March 8, 2016 at 5:57 pm

      I’m hoping the inspections are done by someone independent; district just pays for it. If bad stuff is found, people in IUSD leadership need to be fired. School Board members will be held accountable. If extensive tesing shows nothing, it validates what the district has said all along and Harvey Liss and Larry Agran ought to be able to live with what the state inspectors determine. If Liss and Agran are right, there are three open seats on the school board this year…..

  2. Dan Chmielewski
    March 8, 2016 at 8:48 pm

    I’ve updated the post to add a detail. An email exchange between IUSD officials and the state. At issue, the words “confirmational” vs “conformational.”

Comments are closed.