Birch Hills Golf Course, An Independent Legal Review.

Thankfully, for all of us, Dwight Manley sent a copy of the massive set of documents accompanying the October 1st item to accept title of the BHGC (Brea Hills Golf Course) to his attorney for review.

Richard Montevideo is the Chair of Rutan & Tucker, LLP’s Environmental Law Practice Group since 1992.

The review that follows was provided by him and shared with members of Council and the City Manager prior to last Tuesday’s circus of a Council meeting.

 

 

Property Transfer Document Review

There is a lot to unpack with these documents, but from my initial review of the Settlement Agreement, the AS IS Indemnity Agreement, the Guarantee, the Consolidated Area Easement Agreement and the Environmental CC&Rs, I have the following big picture comments from the perspective of protecting the City’s interest:

  1. For both legal and practical/business reasons, the City should clearly be preparing a formal Phase I Environmental Assessment Report on the Property before taking title to the same. The Phase I Report would provide some legal protection to the City from future enforcement action, and equally important, would consolidate all in one report, a description of the history operations that led to the contamination, a description of the type, levels and media of contamination, the remedial work that was conducted, the residual contamination that remains, and the risks posed by the residual contamination that remains.
  2. For all contamination on the Property, except for essentially contamination caused by Union Oil and that exceeds an existing cleanup standard, the City is indemnifying the seller, including Union Oil. As such, unless this provision is changed, the City should do everything it can to make sure it fully understands the nature and extent of the contamination, meaning conducting a Phase I Report and further evaluating the risks associated with the existing contamination for onsite workers and guests/invitees.
  3. The contaminants of concern at the Property, i.e., PCBs, dioxins, furans, arsenic among others, especially the dioxins, are significant carcinogens and thus the City should have the resulting risks associated with the residual contamination evaluated by a qualified environmental consultant, and presumably a toxicologist/risk assessor. If there is a problem in the future and someone is hurt or claims they are hurt from the contamination, it would be a PR problem for the City, in addition to being a significant legal problem.
  4. Pursuant to H&S code section 25359.7, the seller of the property is required to provide written notice of the existence or potential existence of all hazardous substances it knows or believes exists on the property to the buyer. In this case, I see no evidence of any due diligence disclosures that have been made to the City. Such due diligence reports/disclosures would provide a beginning point for the City to hire an environmental consultant to conduct a Phase I Report.
  5. The protections provided to the City under the various agreements are weak.   Essentially, the City is providing a full release of any all claims under Civil Code 1542, except for among other items, contamination caused by Union Oil that is above current regulatory agency action levels. Thus, if the cleanup standards change in the future, the City is on the hook for addressing the contamination. And in fact, DTSC is currently reviewing and will soon be issuing new guidance/policy on vapor intrusion standards, which may or may not impact the Property, depending on the nature of any volatile organic compounds on the site and their location.
  6. If a problem arises in the future resulting from existing contamination found to exceed existing cleanup standards (which is the only scenario requiring additional work by Union Oil), even then there is no direct remediation covenant that extends to the City. Instead, the City only has a general indemnity to rely upon and will need to show it has suffered some Loss before the general indemnity will kick in. in short, if there is some existing contamination exceeding existing/current cleanup standards, the City will not be able to require Union Oil to clean up the contamination. Normally, in a situation like this, you would negotiate a Remediation Covenant in the Agreement triggering an automatic cleanup obligation.
  7. Stormwater runoff, including dry weather runoff, is a significant issue in California, and golf courses can be big offenders of runoff limits, especially for nitrates, fertilizers, pesticides, etc. From the documentation provided, it is unclear whether the City has hired anyone to evaluate the stormwater runoff compliance issues, but it is clear that the City will be accepting this obligation.
  8. A certain quantity of contamination was buried within the Consolidated area, which then has resulted in a recorded set of Environmental CC&R imposed on this property. The City should make sure that its current and future use of the Consolidated area will not violate these restrictions. This is where again a Phase I Report would be helpful/important.
  9. The AS IS/Indemnity Agreement the City is committing to arbitration and waiving its right to a jury trial.
  10. The “Guarantee” provided by Union Oil is NOT a separate indemnity, but nothing more than Union Oil guarantying the very limited indemnity provided in the AS IS Indemnity agreement.
  11. The Guarantee agreement contains a Confidentiality clause which is unenforceable or otherwise irrelevant in this context when it is being provided for the benefit of a public agency. Either way, it looks bad from the City’s perspective and makes no sense.

I do not know the business/financial benefits of the transaction from the City’s perspective, but from a pure legal and environmental risk perspective, there are a number of issues that the City should take a second look at.

Also note, that the above are the larger issues with the agreements as written, but there are many more. The agreements appear to me to be seller oriented.

A “Reasonable Person” Responds.

I’ve made no attempt to distill Mr. Montevideo’s observations into lay language. As lawyers are apt to say, these remarks are understandable by “any reasonable person” – no reason for me to butt in.

I’ll close by simply saying this, all concerned… Council, Staff, “we the people”, have only a fraction of the facts and information needed to make a prudent decision in this matter.

By failing to admit their error, by not putting on the brakes to give much closer scrutiny to the details and implications of a decision this huge… Council fails us miserably.