Tustin residents should start seeing asbestos experts walking local neighborhoods to clean up debris from the hangar fire within days.
Until then, the best advice for the most affected neighborhoods near the former military base is to leave the gunk strewn throughout yards alone – avoiding things like lawn mowers and blowers – and limit outside exposure, mask up appropriately when outside, avoid touching ash and limit activities that would spread debris in the air.
Yet it’s unclear how well that message is getting out in the nearby affected neighborhoods in Tustin.
Communities like Colombus Square, Tustin Meadows, Laurelwood, Pepper tree, Greenwood, Levity, Anton, Amalfi and The Landing.
I spoke with Tustin Mayor Austin Lumbard on Friday afternoon about how quickly those local neighborhoods would see asbestos experts arrive, who could clean local yards and remove potentially toxic debris before it gets disturbed further.
One of two historic Navy hangars in Tustin started burning early Tuesday. Local firefighters initially tried to get water on the fire, but they were unable to control it given the hangar’s massive size and lack of on-ground water.
A decision was made to let it burn. Almost immediately, nearby neighborhoods got drenched in debris with air quality officials later confirming the existence of asbestos in the area given the age of the hangar and the materials used at the time.
Coming out of a special city council meeting to discuss the issue, Lumbard said the asbestos contractors would be funded by a $1 million agreement announced with the U.S. Navy and approved unanimously in open session by elected city leaders.
City officials, Lumbard said, will take the lead on hiring a contractor with the aim of getting experts into the field “within days.”
“Let’s make sure this happens in the next day or two, not the next two weeks,” is the direction that Lumbard said was given to city officials and contractors.
“Residents have been reasonably asking for that,” he said.
That effort has already begun in areas like local parks, Lumbard said, confirming that a contractor has been hired.
“This is still a tragic fire on Navy property and ultimately the Navy’s responsibility,” Lumbard said, adding, “the city is stepping up where we can to help our residents recover and we’ll continue to push forward and help where we can.”
The crisis has also put a focus on the importance of having the city being able to communicate and coordinate with an array of privatized local governments – known as local homeowner associations (HOAs) – on such an emergency.
It’s unclear how well the city is able to communicate quickly with local HOAs on things like halting local landscapers until asbestos contractors show up.
Lumbard admits that city officials often do not have the best contact information for local HOA officials but that this situation offers a unique opportunity to build better communication.
He noted that he and Orange County Supervisors’ Chairman Don Wagner held a two-hour Zoom community meeting with the Columbus Square neighborhood to hear local concerns and get residents targeted help as soon as possible.
Reportedly, some neighbors were asking questions about being relocated until clean up efforts were complete.
Wagner said local air quality officials have told him that the air monitoring in the local area is virtually normal.
I have made a public records request with the local Air Quality Management District (AQMD) asking to see that kind of data – not just for air, but also for bulk samples collected in local neighborhoods.
Wagner told me that county officials are also working to hire asbestos contractors.
It’s a bit unclear how the county process will work, whether they’ll go directly into affected areas or be on call if homeowners want help.
The county has a hotline number for affected residents at 714-628-7085.
County officials also have put up a website with relevant information, tips and copies of the several air advisories that have been issued since the fire began in the early morning hours of Tuesday.
Wagner encouraged impacted residents to reach out through the hotline and the website.
“Don’t be afraid to use them,” he said, adding, “they are there to help out.”
Wagner said Navy officials are expected on the ground in a few days.
Meanwhile, the hangar site is still smoldering, Lumbard noted Friday morning at the city council meeting.
Wagner said a recent disaster declaration for the county he signed also should enable county officials to get more federal resources involved in clean up and aid efforts.
Tustin city officials on Friday morning also formally approved their own disaster declaration.
From a lack of communication with homeowner associations and gaps in air quality information to basic questions about the fire response, Tustin’s situation highlights the need for effective messaging in realtime to residents from the agencies charged with helping them protect their health, safety and quality of life.
“This disaster really put a spotlight on the frustrations that have existed for decades and underscored the lack of communication,” Lumbard said, referring to the Navy hangar site.
“We’ll get through this, but it shows residents how difficult it is to work through different levels of government. It is frustrating. I am frustrated,” he added.
“We’ll get through it.”
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