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Can Gavin Newsom’s ‘United Nations’ Center turn the Hunters Point Shipyard green?

October 3, 2009

by Carol Harvey

Part One: Ocean rise effects on San Francisco’s Bayview Hunters Point

This is an aerial view of the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard in 1948, when it was not only the headquarters for U.S. radiological research but an economic engine for the community, employing some 10,000 residents of Bayview Hunters Point. Because those Black Shipyard workers were savvy investors, the neighborhood still boasts San Francisco’s highest rate of home ownership. But because of the radiation and other toxins they were exposed to, thousands of the workers died prematurely.
This is an aerial view of the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard in 1948, when it was not only the headquarters for U.S. radiological research but an economic engine for the community, employing some 10,000 residents of Bayview Hunters Point. Because those Black Shipyard workers were savvy investors, the neighborhood still boasts San Francisco’s highest rate of home ownership. But because of the radiation and other toxins they were exposed to, thousands of the workers died prematurely.
As a child, Marie Harrison, Greenaction environmental justice activist and Bayview Hunters Point resident, fished in San Francisco Bay. Strolling Bayview’s Candlestick Point, where the City plans to build condos, she notices, “There’s more water when the tide rolls in.”

The San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) predicts a 16-inch mid-century sea level rise, covering Bay Area coastal lands and eventually swamping downtown San Francisco up to Market Street. (See http://www.bcdc.ca.gov/planning/climate_change/index_map.shtml.)

The primary global warming gas is carbon dioxide. Methane gas, heavily implicated in global warming, has been emitted for years from the Bayview Hunters Point Naval Shipyard. Sea level rise will release methane gas from wetlands and landfill, of which much of Hunters Point is composed.

Ahimsa Porter Sumchai, M.D., environmental toxin expert, notes that methane gas can exacerbate global warming by serving as a vehicle for carbon dioxide and that other gases, like volatile organic compounds and radioactive materials, can also catch a ride on it.

Both Hayward and Andreas faults straddle Bayview Hunters Point wetland and landfill. Biochemist Dr. Raymond Tompkins observes that this loose-packed, sandy soil, diluted by flooding, if slammed by the earthquake predicted within 30 years, could experience “echo effects” – intensifying shock waves – then liquefy, undermining or collapsing S.F. City and County infrastructure.

Global warming at one of the nation’s most toxic sites

Toxic and radiated materials are buried in all parcels at the U.S. Naval Shipyard and Hunters Point. This Superfund site was radiation-contaminated by depleted uranium left after atomic bomb “Little Boy” was assembled there.

Drs. Sumchai and Tompkins fear that rising waters and earthquakes could shake loose unknown volatile and carcinogenic compounds. States Dr. Sumchai, “The Navy plans to cap (Parcel E), subject to liquefaction” (which won’t) prevent “lateral methane gas migration” nor stop lateral movement of unknown toxins beneath.

Dr. Sumchai believes the key emerging Bayview environmental justice issue is toxic exposure and “the very real prospect that redevelopment at the Hunters Point shipyard on radiation-contaminated parcels at D and E will generate airborne and soil releases of contaminants that contain low-level radiological materials.”

She confirms that Parcel E, the site of a 46-acre industrial landfill, is worst. Dr. Tompkins attests that radium dials, irradiated animal carcasses and other unknown carcinogenic contaminants are buried in Parcel E. In 2000, Harrison, along with most of the Bayview community, was choked by the light gray to ebony smoke of a month-long underground fire, flaming bright blue, yellow and green from a mix of potential combustibles generating airborne toxins.

Said Dr. Sumchai, “As early as 2010, the Navy’s and the City and County of San Francisco’s intent is to accept a series of segments of Parcel D in what’s called an ‘early transfer’ – technically a ‘dirty transfer’ – of property” to build homes, a park and a green tech center there.

“Lennar Corp. in a recent interview with John Upton in the San Francisco Examiner announced they will consider residential development on this radiation-impacted property to be a viable option. That is absolutely frightening.” (See http://www.sfexaminer.com/local/Lennar_Corp_seeks_higher_return_for_San_Francisco_redevelopment_project.html.)

Organizer Jaron Browne asserts the position of POWER (People Organized to Win Employment Rights): “The rush to transfer the land before it’s clean, or cap it and build on top of it, is driven by developer rather than community interests.”

Chemical pea soup

Greenaction’s Harrison warns of the “cumulative impact” of multiple toxins coming together. She isolates six primary sources of toxic pea soup ingredients spread by wind over Bay water:

  1. The Mirant Power Plant spewing mercury and lead;
  2. An asphalt-concrete recovery plant, crushing rock into particulate matter;
  3. Vehicle emissions from two freeways, 101 and 280, producing a particulate matter cloud, PCBs and heavy metals.
  4. Asbestos dust produced by Lennar tractors crushing and grading serpentinite rock;
  5. Post World War II Superfund site after testing and dumping of depleted uranium deposited hundreds of radioactive elements in the soil;
  6. Navy “recapture” in 2008 of 66 radioactive materials in Naval Shipyard sewer lines and connectors.

As a result, Bayview residents, particularly children, suffer respiratory illnesses and asbestosis attributed to particulate matter from crushed serpentinite rock, vehicular emissions and other sources.

Environmental toxin expert Sumchai verified that the highest documented African-American infant BVHP mortality rate is significantly raised at 15 per 1,000.

Dr. Tompkins reports that melanin in dark-skinned people attracts heavy metals. Francisco Da Costa verifies heavy metals attack immune systems weakened by poor nutrition, drugs and HIV/AIDS.

Dr. Tompkin’s research exposed elevated breast cancer rates in Bay Area women, but higher at Bayview Hunters Point – suspected culprit for women in the East Bay and North Bay: radiation exposure across the Bay in Hunters Point.

Political-corporate interests block information and testing

Coupled with an exponential rise in insurance rates, dropping property values cause real estate brokers to pressure the U.S. Navy, the San Francisco Department of Public Health, Bay Area Air Quality Control Management and the EPA, who then inadequately monitor cumulative pollution. Media, funded by powerful political and corporate interests, blocks information to the public and Hunters Point residents.

Workers at the Hunters Point Shipyard try an experimental cleanup method targeting PCBs that, according to Science Daily (Nov. 30, 2007, www.sciencedaily.com/.../11/071128180946.htm), “seeped (from the Shipyard landfill) into the Bay and settled in the sediment.” “At its current contamination levels,” Science Daily adds, “it (the Shipyard) is not safe for the city's planned use, which includes a new stadium for the San Francisco 49ers.” – Photo: L.A. Cicero
Workers at the Hunters Point Shipyard try an experimental cleanup method targeting PCBs that, according to Science Daily (Nov. 30, 2007, www.sciencedaily.com/.../11/071128180946.htm), “seeped (from the Shipyard landfill) into the Bay and settled in the sediment.” “At its current contamination levels,” Science Daily adds, “it (the Shipyard) is not safe for the city's planned use, which includes a new stadium for the San Francisco 49ers.” – Photo: L.A. Cicero
However, in her April 2009 San Francisco Bayview article, “Singing in the rain: Hunters Point Shipyard enriches SF’s most powerful families,” Dr. Sumchai, SF Bay View environmental science editor, exposed “a chronology of legal, ethical and regulatory oversight violations involving the transfer and development of Parcel A of the Hunters Point Shipyard with investigative follow-up 2002-2009.” (See http://www.sfbayview.com/2009/singing-in-the-rain-hunters-point-shipyard-enriches-sf percentE2 percent80 percent99s-most-powerful-families/.)

To counter news blackouts and education lag and to pre-empt exclusions of low-income peoples of color from the global warming and climate justice debate, Harrison holds informal “table meetings” explaining unfamiliar science behind climate change. She reports that, on a one to 10 scale, Bayview residents’ understanding of water rise and global warming is about 4. Despite a forced focus on the constant struggle to survive lack of jobs, high unemployment and crime, and fear for their youth, Harrison reports her neighbors are asking the right questions.

Part Two: S.F. Mayor Gavin Newsom’s ‘United Nations Global Compact Center’ to foster green startups at Bayview Hunter’s Point Superfund site

Climate justice activist Francisco Da Costa indicts China and the U.S. as the two biggest world polluters. He suspects the U.S. wants China, not itself, to become a signatory to world initiatives like the Kyoto Treaty and the Dec. 7, 2009, United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. He believes the U.S. is using cover to deflect its responsibility to act to slow or halt global warming.

In July 2000, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan launched the Global Compact concept, holding businesses and multinational corporations to 10 principles: human rights, collective bargaining, anti-discrimination, the precautionary principle in approaching environmental challenges, green technologies and anti-corruption.

Ironically, on July 30, 2009, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom unveiled a proposal for a $20 million “United Nations Global Compact Center,” bearing the U.N. logo and a tenuous U.N. connection, to be constructed in 2012 by Master Developer Lennar Corp. The San Francisco Chronicle’s Heather Knight reported the plans for the center’s construction adjacent to this highly toxic Bayview Hunters Point Superfund site on the spectacular Bayview waterfront. (See http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/07/30/MN7O1913JU.DTL.)

This center will “focus on promoting sustainable and clean technologies” like rooftop solar panels, insignificant fixes to major pollution and global warming problems.

Knight writes, “The green tech campus will be built on Parcel C, which sits … on the shipyard’s eastern edge.”

The center will include “an incubator to foster green tech start-ups, a conference center” and “office space for academics and scientists,” who apparently won’t realize toxic emissions could sicken them, rising sea levels inundate the land, and an earthquake liquefy soggy soil bringing the structure down.

Said Harrison, “This is a group of business men – by no means the actual United Nations.”

“Window dressing,” remarked POWER’s Jaron Browne. “The push from the Mayor’s Office, the Navy and Lennar is to cap the land, (not) clean it, transfer it before it’s clean, and be silent on key issues of water rise and liquefaction. You can’t throw in a building about Green research and sidestep the substantive issues that are affecting the neighborhood.”

To the hope of struggling Bayview residents and youth for clean, green jobs at the U.N. Global Compact building, Marie asks, “How long have they been promising our community jobs that our folks still ain’t got? You think every Black person is so stuck on stupid we’re going to believe that garbage – they are going to literally get 35 percent of these jobs?” Such omissions violate the Global Compact’s 10 human rights principles.

Bayview activists’ responses

To meet this global challenge locally, environmental activists are notifying and organizing the community and reaching out to state, national and international groups.

Dr. Sumchai is “encouraging people to actively oppose dirty transfer of these radiation-contaminated properties, particularly in light of our knowledge that Lennar Corp. has publicly acknowledged in the mainstream media that it will consider siting housing on properties that have not been cleaned to ‘residential standards,’ the highest possible standard mandated by the will of the people of San Francisco, through Proposition P in 2000.”

Facing down powerful opposition has taken years of Bayview activists – individuals and groups – pushing hard against the corporate behemoth’s constantly disappointing and corrupt political blockades.

Activist Harrison verifies that in Little Hollywood, Potrero Hill, Visitacion Valley and Sunnydale, “you will find maybe a handful of (activists) who truly grasp the concept of global warming.” She attributes lack of focus on water rise danger to attention constantly distracted from a series of victories to yet another Lennar attempt to legislate away their land, like Mark Leno’s Senate Bill 792, authorizing a transfer to Lennar of 23 acres of Candlestick Point Recreation Area, California’s only urban state park.

Despite this, she estimates that, among the growing number of town hall meetings being held regularly in cities around the state and Caravans for Justice that bus the activists, educated at those meetings, to Sacramento to lobby the legislature that clarity on climate change is growing.

Greenaction Director Bradley Angel stated that “as a result of two decades of environmental justice organizing, education and mobilizing in Bayview Hunters Point, like other similar low income communities of color, people are increasingly aware of climate change but are focused primarily on issues front and center to them.” He described one recent event of mobilization led by Greenaction and POWER around Hunters Point Shipyard cleanup and redevelopment issues.

In July 2009, Greenaction organized a community rally and blockade of the Innes Street Shipyard entrance. Over 200 residents served a community Stop Work Order. They placed a giant sign in the Shipyard entrance to which Harrison and other residents chained themselves. For several hours, about 200 people blocked the road. (See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xnTTVjCee-w.)

Da Costa reported that in August 2009, after SLAM, the Stop Lennar Action Movement, a large coalition of “organizations of groups and individuals,” “came together to stop the poisoning of our community,” the Bay Area Air Quality Management District fined bad actor Lennar $515,000 for “violations of the Air Quality Act and their (inadequate) dust mitigation.”

In an Oct. 5, 2008, article, Da Costa called SLAM “a spiritual movement” of people gathering in Thursday town hall meetings at various Bayview locations, such as Grace Tabernacle Community Church, where “Samoans, Asians, Whites, Blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, decent folks – children, women and men of good faith” – come together to plan local environmental justice initiatives. SLAM includes POWER, Greenaction, Bayview Hunters Point pastors representing their churches, the Nation of Islam and environmental justice groups. (See http://www.franciscodacosta.com/articles/blossoms093.html.)

Caravans for Justice and SLAM include roughly the same groups. The Caravans draw from town hall meetings on environmental justice in Sacramento, the Central Valley, Stockton, Antioch, Pittsburg, East Palo Alto and San Jose.

“We are all part of the Caravans for Justice,” says Marie: “When I go, I speak on behalf of Bayview Hunters Point residents and Greenaction.”

She confirms that these groups represent a loose coalition of “community folks who are saying, ‘Not only is enough enough. This is not just a Bayview Hunters Point issue. We’ve got to come together and work on this as Californians.’”

The groups share updates on events in their communities. Delegations from town halls visit back and forth. Members from other areas have shown up to confront Mayor Newsom in his run for governor across the state. One asked, “How can you call yourself an environmentalist while causing Bayview Hunters Point children to die?” reported Harrison.

POWER conducts grassroots door-to-door organizing in the Bayview, leadership training and strategic campaigns and maintains worldwide outreach through the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, which could have a presence at the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Summit. (See http://www.ggjalliance.org/.)

Dr. Tompkins, who has devoted years contributing organic chemistry expertise to the Bayview Hunters Point community through boards and committees, demands improved testing to discover what is actually in the soil and a retaining wall to control water rise. To fund his toxic cleanups in foreign countries, the U.N. requires him to hire two native workers per project. Therefore, he wants the United Nations to mandate two Bayview residents per job or project.

He expects Global Compact corporate funders to train Bayview residents not just to be flaggers, HAZMAT handlers or green techies, but to invest in improving the impoverished Hunters Point school system to educate doctors and scientists. He believes this many-decade process will guide generations of Bayview children and youth into a salvaged middle class working to protect their community by resolving global warming problems and sea level rise.

Francisco Da Costa plans to inform U.N. officials about toxins at the Bayview Superfund site where corporate “bad neighbors” Chevron and British Petroleum (BP) may fund their U.N.-appropriated Global Compact Center without regard to local inhabitants’ welfare.

Attributions

Marie Harrison, Bayview resident, community organizer with Greenaction on issues on environmental justice and green energy

Bradley Angel, co-founder of Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice

Ahimsa Porter-Sumchai, M.D, licensed medical doctor, since 2000 health and environmental science editor of the San Francisco Bay View newspaper, environmental toxin expert

Dr. Raymond Tompkins, Bayview resident, associate organic and biochemistry researcher at San Francisco State University whose private company specializes in toxic waste cleanups outside the U.S.

Francisco Da Costa, Bayview resident, founder of Environmental Justice Advocacy

Jaron Browne, POWER organizer, Bayview Organizing Project, working on campaign for sustainable community development – its mission to build racial, economic, gender and environmental justice

Carol Harvey is a San Francisco writer whose work is published by many Bay Area periodicals. Email her at carolharveysf@yahoo.com. This story was published in part by Fog City Journal on Sept. 29. (See http://www.fogcityjournal.com/wordpress/2009/09/29/global-warming-activists-fear-sea-level-rise-will-cause-toxic-soup-at-naval-superfund-site/.) An abbreviated version will appear in the next issue of Race, Poverty and the Environment at http://www.urbanhabitat.org/rpe.

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