SANTA MONICA-MALIBU UNIFIED SPENDING TO AVOID PCB REMOVAL BREAKS $10 MILLION MARK; PARENTS TO DEMAND INVESTIGATION INTO MISMANAGEMENT OF FUNDS AND SCHOOL BOARD PRESIDENT’S CONNECTION
Pillsbury Legal Bills Reach $3.38 Million after another $500K Approved at March 3rd, 2016 Board
March 17th Agenda shows $500k more which Superintendent claims may be a mistake but has not removed it from the agenda.
MALIBU — Local parents and taxpayers are outraged that the school district has now spent more than $10 million to avoid removing hazardous waste, known as PCBs, from its schools; this includes a whopping $3.38 million spent on the law firm Pillsbury, Winthrop, Shaw and Pittman in only 2 years. The estimated cost of removing the PCBs is far less than those legal bills alone. Parents and taxpayers have raised questions about why a school district would spend 10 times more to force kids in classrooms with known toxic hazardous waste. New information expands this questioning into the law firm’s selection, spending and strategy, the propriety of the School Board President’s involvement in PCB-related votes, and the firm’s connections to Monsanto, the leading manufacturer of PCBs.
PCBs and Monsanto are in the news right now due to an ongoing a Los Angeles Superior Court trial where plaintiffs allege cancer as a result of PCB exposure. In addition, there is legislation pending, H.R.2576, to amend the Federal Toxic Substances Control Act in a manner that The New York Times reports may give Monsanto a ‘get out of jail free card’ relating to its PCB liability. Harvard researchers estimate that up to 20 million children nationally may be exposed to PCBs in their schools, making the Malibu case of broad importance.
March 17, 2016: SMMUSD AGENDA LINK: http://www.smmusd.org/brd1516/agn031716.pdf
Pillsbury is leading the fight on behalf of SMMUSD against parents and teachers who filed a citizen’s suit eleven months ago that does not seek any monetary damages, only an order from a Federal judge to remove illegal and hazardous PCBs from Malibu public schools. Removal is estimated to cost $750,000 to $1.5 million, and parents are shocked that Pillsbury’s legal fees alone far exceed this amount.
When consultant costs are factored in, the Pillsbury-led strategy to prevent identification and removal of PCBs has cost taxpayers more than $10 million, an amount that will continue to rise if the board keeps approving Superintendent Lyon’s spending requests — last week, the board approved an additional $500,000 for PIllsbury.
While public school districts routinely engage in sophisticated and competitive bidding processes for things like books and landscaping services, Pillsbury was hired to perform millions of dollars of legal work based on the recommendation of School Board President Laurie Lieberman through her husband’s law partner, Tom Larmore. Before becoming a law partner with Lieberman’s husband, Larmore was a partner at Pillsbury.
In response to a public records request, Gail Pinsker, SMMUSD’s public relations officer wrote, “In the case of Pillsbury, I am able to confirm that Tom Larmore, who is very involved on the district’s Financial Oversight Committee on which he has served for years, originally referred us to the Pillsbury firm, where he had been previously employed.”
Larmore currently sits on the district’s financial oversight committee and is representing Santa Monica on the committee to create a separate Malibu school district. In 2014, when Ben Allen was elected to the CA State Senate and his board seat was vacated, Larmore asked to be appointed to the board. The only vote Larmore received from the remaining six board members was from Laurie Lieberman.
The connections between Pillsbury, Larmore and Lieberman were not disclosed to the public in advance of the firm’s hiring. Also not disclosed to the public was the fact that Pillsbury represented a Monsanto spin-off (Solutia) in a bankruptcy case from 2003-2008. Monsanto was the only U.S. manufacturer of PCBs, and Solutia was
formed through a divesture of its chemical business . Over the past two years, numerous legal teams approached SMMUSD suggesting, at no charge to the district, to file a case against Monsanto and Solutia to pay for PCB removal, as many other school districts have done. Pillsbury recommended against it.
PCBs are dangerous to Children and Teachers:
International PCB expert David O. Carpenter, M.D., spoke to the Malibu community for several hours last week at Pepperdine University about the dangers of PCBs.
“What we need to do is get the PCBs out,” Carpenter said. “When I get asked what level of PCBs are safe, I say, ‘zero molecules.’ Any molecule is harmful. The more you have, the more harm.”
SMMUSD sent statements to the press trying to discredit Dr. Carpenter as being a biased expert witness for the plaintiffs, despite his extensive resume and recognition by other world experts. In fact, Pillsbury trusted the expertise of Dr. Carpenter when they retained him as an expert witness for them in 2006 when they represented shareholders of the Monsanto spin-off, Solutia, in a PCB liability case – underscoring the fact that Dr. Carpenter is undoubtedly one of the nation’s preeminent PCB researchers and not a biased expert regarding PCBs’ dangers.
IARC 26 Experts on PCBs:
The plaintiffs in this case, America Unites for Kids, have confirmed that Dr. Carpenter is providing his expertise pro-bono. According to Dr. Carpenter, he has never profited from working on legal cases — he said he feels it is his obligation as a scientist to work to protect public health and any money received is donated to the University of Albany’s research institute including those monies paid to him by Pillsbury.
For more information:
See Pillsbury’s own website where it touts its work on behalf of polluters:
New York Times story on Toxic Substances Control Act legislation:
Story on LA Superior Court trial regarding Monsanto and PCBs:
Dr. David Carpenter’s Presentation at Pepperdine University’s Law School
H.R.2576 TSCA Modernization Act 2015 text
SMMUSD’s Latest Approval of $500,000 for Pillsbury
Text of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s Letter to the New York Times:
To the Editor:
You reported a scheme by Congressional Republicans to include in
legislation to amend the Toxic Substances Control Act a provision that
could immunize Monsanto from damages caused by polychlorinated
biphenyls, or PCBs. Monsanto was the exclusive American manufacturer
of PCBs, which are potent endocrine disrupters and carcinogens.
Thousands of American schools built between 1950 and 1979 contain hazardous concentrations of PCBs in their window caulking and lighting fixtures, endangering millions of children. Internal company documents show that Monsanto aggressively marketed this product to schools knowing that it was extremely toxic and would ultimately be prohibited by law. The mitigation costs could run from approximately $1 million to $3 million per building. Congress now seeks to shift these costs to school districts and to abolish Monsanto’s liability for more than 80,000 miles of PCB-contaminated streams and rivers.
Congress should be fighting for the health and environmental interest
of Americans and their children instead of safeguarding the ill-gotten
profits of one multinational corporation.
ROBERT F. KENNEDY Jr.
President, Waterkeeper Alliance