by Carol Harvey
February is a cruel month for Felita Sample, a slender, fawn-like, 51-year-old woman gazing out of shy eyes set in a delicately-featured face. Felita’s mother, Shirley Gean, was born Feb. 1, 1946. Twenty-nine years later, on February 9, 1975, 8-year-old Felita watched helplessly as Shirley crumpled to the floor.
Suspecting her boyfriend would shoot her, Shirley had prepared her daughter. While her young world shattered before her, Felita stayed calm. However, she confessed years later, “My mother was all I had.” Perhaps heartbreak, abuse, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress make Felita’s eyes appear sad and somewhat tired – except for flashes of her bashful smile.
Like a leaping deer, Felita gracefully cleared a series of mental and physical hurdles that fashioned her into the strong, beautiful woman she is today.
I am Felita Sample. My daughter is LaKrista Jackson.
After LaKrista and I were manipulated into moving onto Treasure Island, we discovered it was toxic and was making us sick. So we decided to tell the world.
I experienced no ill health and had never been hospitalized until, in 2004, I moved to Treasure Island. Soon, my young daughter LaKrista and I manifested similar strange symptoms.
She couldn’t eat, drink water, or attend second grade. Though I love a good meal, suddenly I couldn’t tolerate food, suffered daily nausea and vomiting, severe dehydration, agonizing thirst, extreme stomach and kidney pain, constant dizziness and disorientation, fainting spells, high blood pressure, unexpected severe sweats and a diagnosis of enlarged heart. Without cavities or pain, my teeth broke off at the gum line.
Years later, I put two and two together. I learned that neighbors on my block suffered the same illnesses as LaKrista and I. Two women, one after the other, rented the unit below my second floor apartment at 1406 Sturgeon St. The first died of kidney disease and left the unit vacant. A second moved in, then died when her kidneys gave out.
Hospitalizations at St. Luke’s and San Francisco General produced no diagnosis. My South of Market Health Center nurse practitioner could only prescribe Omeprazole before meals to reduce stomach acid and lessen my nausea and vomiting.
Nine years after I moved onto Treasure Island, I discovered I had transferred from a Tenderloin Single Room Occupancy hotel (SRO) with drug dealers on the sidewalk to an apartment 50 feet from Bigelow Court, one of the island’s most radiologically and chemically toxic spots. I learned also there was radiation under my house.
To Felita’s toxic townhouse 1406B Sturgeon St., Treasure Island
On Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013, Andre and I read an NBC “We Investigate” report by journalist Vicky Nguyen, in which she interviewed health physicist Don Wadsworth. The article was headlined, “Subcontractor breaks silence about radiation contamination at Treasure Island.”
The Navy relocated Paris and Cindy Hayes (pictured) from their Bayside Drive home in 2013 when two very good investigative reporters informed the California Department of Public Health that there were very hot objects on Treasure Island that the Navy had not reported. Since that time, the Navy has magically found 1,000 more radiological objects all over Treasure Island.
The U.S. Navy contracted Wadsworth’s company, New World Environmental, to survey for radiation. With the attached video, Nguyen embedded a picture by a U.S. Navy photographer of a technician squatting over a geiger counter on the floor of 1101B Bigelow Court. The caption said: “Technician evaluating elevated radiation detected beneath the slab of B1101 – ~80,000 cpm and at ~30 uR/hr on contact with floor.”
The reading “~ 80,000 cpm and ~ 30 uR/hr” is a measurement of how much energy the radioisotope is releasing and the speed at which its atoms in a steady stream are striking the DNA of a person’s body – in this case, at a frequency of a million times over the Environmental Protection Agency’s limits for the human ability to tolerate such impact without damage. Asked “Should people be living on Treasure Island?” Wadsworth said, “No.”
Proximity to radiation matters. Most of my symptoms – and those of my daughter, LaKrista – were explained by our living close to high levels of radiation emanating from 1101B Bigelow Court, the footprint address of a demolished townhouse inside a nearby Navy cleanup zone roughly 50 feet away from both LaKrista’s Treasure Island elementary school and our 1406 Sturgeon St. townhouse.
Standing on Felita’s balcony to verify the 50-foot distance from her home, I videoed a dusty vacant lot formerly occupied by 1101 Bigelow Court. The “footprint” of ghost-townhouse 1101 Bigelow Court stands invisible in this empty .54 acre space surrounded by a green-tarped fence.
Wadsworth testified that the Navy tech’s radiation measurement at 1101 Bigelow Court rises to a million times above the EPA’s level for human toleration. Radioactive material produces atoms which move in waves at extraordinarily high speeds.
A rapid atom stream continues to radiate constantly out from the source buried at this location 50 feet from Felita Sample’s townhouse. The rapidity of this stream allows radiation to easily penetrate bodies and disrupt the DNA of resident adults and children nearby.
Bigelow Court from Felita’s balcony
The Navy claims it is removing all radiation from Treasure Island. But, once implanted at a spot, a radioisotope can never be completely removed. Historically, the Navy has been cited for sloppy Treasure Island cleanup.
“Stay away from there,” Andre Patterson warned. But I preferred dodging the radiation bullet.
Felita and I walk around Bigelow Court to show its proximity to her home.
Between 2014 and 2017, I have often strolled the Bigelow Court perimeter extending a videocamera-mounted monopod (a sort of industrial-strength selfie stick) over the wire mesh fence. Up through 2015, kneeling men protected by pale hazmat suits sorted objects spread on heavy black plastic sheets called “visqueen,” weighted down with white sandbags. Big yellow earthmovers lurched in circles around trucks clustered on heavily rutted dirt.
In the summer 2017, I videoed a radiation technician scanning Bigelow Court with a geiger counter on a wand. This is a clear indication that the Navy continues to look for radiation in an exclusion zone they have claimed was “clean.”
During a press escort on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016, between 10:30 and 11:30 a.m., a team of six Navy employees conducted me into the fenced-off beige moonscape. Not one technician or vehicle remained. We stood in an all-but abandoned vacant lot. I asked Keith Forman, Treasure Island environmental coordinator, present with six other Navy personnel, to show me 1101 Bigelow Court. Forman led me toward – but not up to – this radioactive spot.
NBC TV news had published an article with video documentation of Keith Forman stopping reporter Vicky Nguyen from entering a Treasure Island public meeting about the Navy cleanup. Despite this published fact, Forman flatly denied to me that he knew this reporter or had any awareness of her NBC interview in which Wadsworth told her that radiation there measured a million times above human tolerability limits.
Flying in the face of the incontrovertible fact that the Navy photograph of the tech measuring off-the-chart radiation with a geiger counter bore the NAVFAC (Naval Facilities Engineering Command) logo, Keith Forman, a Navy employee, dismissed Wadsworth’s reading of the radiation measurement as “an untruth,” “an inaccuracy” and “misinformation.”
“That’s absolutely not true,” he said. Somebody got “their wires crossed.” Forman insisted that only three low-level radiological objects (LLROs) had been found under and around the unit.
In 2013, after the Navy was found derelict in reporting the number of radiological objects it had discovered on Treasure Island, the California Department of Public Health again hired Navy contracter New World Environmental to scan the island for radiation. Don Wadsworth’s company found a new string of “hot objects” along Gateview Avenue and a single radiological source located under Felita Sample’s 1406 Sturgeon St. address.
Felita and LaKrista were hit by a radiation double whammy – the source inside the Bigelow Court fence radiating 50 feet from its origin and a second radioisotope releasing deadly rays from directly beneath the thin concrete pad supporting their house.
The radiological object buried under Felita’s townhouse probably killed the two women in the first floor apartment who died of kidney disease – one after the other. They were exposed to the radiation more directly than was Felita higher up on the second floor farther away from the radiation. This could explain why Felita is still alive – albeit also very sick from constant kidney pain.
Felita’s story continued: How I got to Treasure Island – I didn’t want to move here
I was born in Carmel, California, and grew up in Seaside not far from Fort Ord.
My family came from Crocket, Texas, near Houston. During the Jim Crow lynching era in the American South, Texas was notorious among African-Americans as the “Hang ‘Em High State.”
After the North won the Civil War, a rumor was circulated that Gen. Sherman ordered all white masters to give their freed slaves “40 acres and a mule.” My family’s plantation owner deeded us a parcel of his land, where my grandmother settled. We still possess that 1883 deed. Naming ourselves “Sherman” after the general, part of my family emigrated to California.
After my mother was murdered, my aunt took me in but neglected and abused me. She told me education was important but didn’t provide lunch money, school clothes or shoes. At graduation, I had no senior pictures. Without a dress, I couldn’t attend the prom.
To get away from home, I ran track. (Felita is slim, like a runner. I envision her as a leaping deer.)
I studied hard and earned a high school diploma. When I graduated in 1984 from Seaside High, I became the family’s only high school graduate.
I feel strongly that people – especially women – must educate themselves to better understand what’s happening around them so they can care for and protect themselves and their children.
I am proud that on May 24, 2016, my daughter, LaKrista, graduated with an A average from San Francisco’s Lowell High School which is “noted for its academic excellence and prominent alumni and has been named a California Distinguished School seven times and a National Blue Ribbon School four times.”
In her senior year, 2016, LaKrista received As in Spanish, algebra, English and European literature and economics and a B in drama. I feel my education helped me get where I am today, and LaKrista’s education will enable her to live a better life, too.
In 1995, I relocated alone to the Bay Area where I knew I had family. They didn’t help. I became homeless, searching for services in Oakland and San Francisco.
I met my daughter LaKrista’s father and in 1998, I became pregnant. LaKrista and I were without housing for her first four years. While she was still an infant, her father and I were homeless on San Francisco streets. Planning during my pregnancy, I signed up for Shelter Plus Care, the funding stream for HUD subsidies.
LaKrista’s father had high blood pressure and hypertension. An aneurysm killed him when a blood clot burst in his brain.
With a second loss of someone close, I was left homeless, raising my baby daughter by myself. LaKrista was too young to know her father, but his death provided her with social security survivor benefits.
In 2002, a two-room HUD-subsidized Tenderloin Single Room Occupancy (SRO) studio became available to us at the Franciscan Towers at 217 Eddy St. The apartment was located in the Tenderloin where they sold drugs day and night.
I did not want my daughter and myself living in that environment. But because I was in an emergency situation living on the street, I accepted the apartment temporarily.
After a year in the Franciscan Towers, I approached Santiago Juan, supervisor of families housed with HUD’s Shelter Plus Care subsidies, explaining that I was living with mice and roaches. He said my transfer was restricted to HUD’s Shelter Plus Care units and that the only available two-bedroom apartment was on Treasure Island.
I protested that Treasure Island was located at a geographic disadvantage. “Treasure Island or nothing,” he said.
HUD officials seem to steer people to Treasure Island. If Shelter Plus Care Program Manager Shane Balanon had given me a voucher, I could have found housing elsewhere in the City. I needed the kind of voucher that travels with you, enabling you to find your own place.
I protested that Treasure Island was located at a geographic disadvantage. “Treasure Island or nothing,” he said. HUD officials seem to steer people to Treasure Island.
The only escape route available to mothers like me after being enticed into undesirable living quarters or dangerous neighborhoods is to face the loss of our vouchers by walking away. Staying off San Francisco streets meant I was trapped on Treasure Island.
On May 7, 2004, I moved to a Treasure Island two-bedroom apartment. It was just like a house – complete with washer and dryer, garage, dishwasher – the whole get-up.
Right off the bat, a red flag popped up. The property manager, Charles Byrd, gave me a strange order that I could not find anywhere on the lease I had just signed. He said I was prohibited from parking a car in my garage. I thought this was odd and wondered if something illegal was going on. I later learned that, though residents’ rents entitle them to park in their garage or driveway, the island security company tickets tenants and tows their cars without warning.
The final irony was that, after moving out of the Tenderloin to escape the drug scene, I learned that Island officials encourage the residence of drug dealers in the community as a “harm reduction” measure for people in recovery from addictions. My story in upcoming issues will cover a vast smorgasbord of other island illegalities.
So please read Part 2, “You’re violating my Fourth Amendment rights: Equal protection under the law” and Part 3, “How the U.S. Navy exposed a Treasure Island mother and daughter to radiation levels higher than humans can tolerate,” and Parts 4 to 6. You’ll find them in upcoming print issues of the Bay View and online at sfbayview.com.
Carol Harvey is a San Francisco political journalist specializing in human rights and civil rights. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.