In 2000, San Diego Gas and Electric began the process of tearing down the old Encanto Gas Holder facility just inside Lemon Grove, east of the old San Diego annex Encanto Heights, next to Chollas Creek and the tracks of the San Diego Trolley Orange Line along Imperial Avenue.

In late September of 2000, Sempra Energy sent letters to all of the residents and property owners living within 1000 feet of the gas holder facility property line, telling people that the undergound pipe removal would be noisy, but otherwise everything had been inspected, all of the proper permits had been obtained, and there was no possible harm to the neighborhood from the work.

Soon, people in the neighborhood could tell something was in the air. It was the odor of burning roof tar, and it was coming from the pipe stripping operation going on in the center of the 16-acre gas holder lot.

It stank.

It was the time when birds just fell out of the sky, dead.

There were some things that the Sempra Energy letter didn't mention.

The letter forgot to mention that SDG&E had found a layer containing asbestos all over the 30-inch diameter pipe that was the gas holder bottle, over nine miles of asbestos-wrapped pipe that had been buried undergound for nearly half of a century.

The letter also forgot to mention that neither SDG&E or the demolition contractor didn't really tell the proper air quality authorities about the asbestos found at the site, calling the removal of nine miles of asbestos-covered pipe a "renovation", like it was some sort of side yard landscaping project.

Instead, it was what the regional EPA enforcement coordinator for hazardous air pollutants would later call under oath the worst case of friable asbestos production in a residential setting that he had ever seen in his career as a government environmental inspector.

Now, ordinarily, these types of things happen all of the time, and they are just an ordinary part of doing business in the dirty, hush-hush world of industrial asbestos removal on the sly. What makes this case interesting is how it involved Carol Lam's office just around the time she was asked to step down as the United States Attorney in the Southern District of California.

There are other interesting things about the contractor selected to do the demolition work. As an accountable transaction, preparing an asset such as land for sale means clearing everything off of that land, so that whoever buys it can then use that land for any purpose, unencumbered by that land's past history in the hands of its previous owner. After all, who really intends on buying a toxic waste dump to put houses on it? Really... doesn't that sound like something that might have been cooked up by a former head of the Southeastern Economic Development Corporation?

A year before the demolition work was scheduled to begin, the local real estate developer Carter Reese and Associates entered into an agreement to purchase the cleared SDG&E gas holder lot for residential development. Many years later, a zoning change proposal would surface before the City of Lemon Grove Community Development Department for the newly-minted Citrus Heights Development, sponsored by general partner Reese A. Jarrett.

So what's the connection to the Superstition Hills in Imperial County?

Hint: you will know IT when you see IT.

"Whatever it is, it ain't human. We're all gonna die."

United States Attorney Karen P. Hewitt announced that today a federal jury in San Diego found San Diego Gas and Electric (“SDG&E”) guilty of three counts of violating asbestos work practice standards and one count of making false statements. The charges relate to the removal of asbestos from 9.23 miles of underground piping at the former Encanto Gas Holder Facility (Encanto facility) in Lemon Grove in 2000- 2001. Two individuals, Kyle Rhuebottom (the project manager for the prime contractor on the site), and David “Willy” Williamson (an SDG&E Environmental Specialist) were each found guilty of one count of violating asbestos work practice standards.

According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Melanie K. Pierson and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Kotila, who prosecuted the case, the evidence at trial established that SDG&E and one of its employees, David Williamson, as well as SDG&E contractor Kyle Rhuebottom, violated the asbestos work practice standards of the Clean Air Act in the removal of the asbestos at the site in order to save time and money. The jury found SDG&E employee Jacquelyn McHugh not guilty of that charge.


“SDG&E put the public at risk by improperly removing more than forty thousand linear feet of potentially cancer-causing asbestos,” said Granta Nakayama, EPA’s Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Today’s convictions show that financial gain will not come before one’s obligation to obey the law.”

FBI Acting Special Agent in Charge Kathy D. Leodler commented, “The FBI will continue to aggressively investigate and pursue the most egregious environmental offenders to bring them before the bar of justice. Today’s verdict is a victory for the citizenry of San Diego and a vindication for the citizens of Lemon Grove.”

(July 13, 2007, US DOJ/FBI press release on initial guilty verdicts in United States v. SDG&E)


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