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Twenty years ago, the city of San Francisco moved thousands of its homeless and low-income residents into former military housing on Treasure Island, a small artificial land mass whose 55 years as a Navy base left it covered in toxic radiation. Today, construction on the island has it on track to becoming a bustling, upscale extension of the city. The problem is, some of those residents from 20 years ago are still there. So are thousands of others who have moved in since. So is the radiation.
For both armed and unarmed combat, the United States military is unparalleled in the world. So, when the U.S. Navy points the finger for its bungled Hunters Point cleanup at Tetra Tech to deflect from its own liability, it’s a carefully thought-out advance strategy that has worked for decades on contaminated Naval bases around the globe.
Treasure Island (TI), part of San Francisco’s District 6, according to various censuses, is the third most diverse neighborhood in the U.S. Seventy percent of tenants are Black or Latina/o, and the majority are low-income. The Anti-Eviction Mapping Project and Eviction Defense Collaborative (EDC) documented District 6 to have the most eviction cases represented by the EDC in courts in 2016. The island’s better housing units, on the northwest side, are destined for redevelopment in the form of new, upscale apartment buildings as part of a larger development project.
Four brave Treasure Islanders who've spoken out about the radiation and other toxins sickening residents have learned they face swift retaliation engineered by the powers-that-be. Mitchell Herrington lived on Treasure Island from 1999 to 2013, when he was harassed off the island by eviction. During his tenancy, Mitchell lived with a roommate who worked for Shaw Environmental. The fact that this Shaw employee had to be protected by a hooded hazmat suit suggested the serious danger of contamination present in his cleanup zone work.
A “space mountain,” “a behemoth,” “a colossus,” “a palace for Jabba The Hut” and “a half-baked baked Alaska” – that’s how columnists have described George Lucas’ $400 million 300,000-square-foot Museum of Narrative Art, a collection of Americana and Hollywood memorabilia. On May 16, 2016, San Francisco Supervisor, Aaron Peskin, appeared on CBS Bay Area talk show “Matier in the Morning,” where he reintroduced Treasure Island as a site for the project.
Lennar’s track record in Bayview Hunters Point and on Yerba Buena Island clearly demonstrates a pattern of offering assurances they will provide poor, Black and Brown people affordable housing, then finding ways to renege on their promises and kicking them out. Join the protest by residents of Bayview Hunters Point, the Mission and Treasure Island at Lennar’s sales office at 645 Howard St., between Second and Third in downtown San Francisco on Thursday, Jan. 28, at noon, for a rally and a quick march to US EPA headquarters.
Since 2000, when the family moved to the island, everyone has been plagued by mild to severe respiratory and gastrointestinal problems that they believe are caused by island pollution. These illnesses, however, have given Child Protective Services a pretext for repeatedly taking Liz’ children and placing them in foster care, accusing this devoted mother of dereliction in her child-rearing.
Loud pounding exploded on Liz Washington’s townhouse door on Treasure Island one day in 2005. A large African-American woman stood outside on the stoop. When her children's father cracked open the door, four burly male cops stormed in from behind her and pushed their way into the house. The worker announced coldly, “Someone at the school called CPS on you. I’m here to take your kids.”
On May 29, 2015, on the Golden Gate Bridge side of Treasure Island, smelly brown chocolate ooze began to gush from the Lundgren family’s 1201-B Bayside Drive faucets. The other side of the island had just trembled. Between the Job Corps grounds and the San Francisco Bay Bridge, Lennar Corp. engineers had penetrated 50 feet of soil with huge vibrating bores.
Yerba Buena Islanders’ Icarus-like plunge from their remote mountaintop into the contaminated air, soil and water of Treasure Island’s radiological and chemical cleanup zone is imminent. This was the main topic at the Treasure Island Development Authority board’s Wednesday, April 8, 2015, annual on-island meeting. Yerba Buenans facing fall 2015 eviction who normally don’t attend because they feel unheard and their issues ignored, presented their concerns.
Is the Treasure Island Development Authority (TIDA) board hearing San Franciscans’ concerns about radiation and chemical contamination, earthquake liquefaction risks and displaced persons’ relocation rights? Actually, no! Employing blocking techniques that capitalize on the fear of speaking in public, the formidable TIDA board is plowing ahead with Redevelopment, insisting on – while resisting – public input.
On Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014, crowds in Clipper Cove bleachers cheered Chinese Dragon Boat races, completely unaware that, at that same moment, on the island’s far end, Treasure Island residents were suffering years of infrastructure collapse and being flooded out. While the Treasure Island Development Authority rakes in admission fees, it is taking no action to rebuild island infrastructure for current residents or protect them from the ravages on their health of flooding, mold and radiation.
Common wisdom holds that Island authorities have simply abandoned the buildings and infrastructure to crumble until they are razed during the redevelopment build-out phase, which will not start until 2015 and could last over a decade. In the process, they seem also to have abandoned the low-income people they enticed to the island, who are providing rent and securing the infrastructure until the island can be rebuilt for rich condo owners.
After working vigilantly to protect her kids from asbestos by moving out of an asbestos-filled home in Bayview Hunters Point onto Treasure Island, Sandy Agee found she had literally jumped from the frying pan into the fire. At this writing, Sandy and two of her children are exhibiting worrisome physical symptoms they developed only after moving to the island. Sandy’s blood tests came back positive for “thyroid problems.”
The City of San Francisco appears to be launching a discriminatory retaliatory eviction targeting its Treasure Island toxin whistleblower, Kathryn Lundgren, and her family. Lundgren, mother of three teens, has repeatedly sounded the alarm outing the City and the Navy for collusion in neglecting to warn her and her unsuspecting neighbors that Treasure Island is a radioactive dumpsite saturated with chemicals, toxic mold, asbestos and lead.
Think of Treasure Island as an iridescent green glowing ghost ship whose prow divides the blue waves as it navigates San Francisco Bay waters gliding northwest under the Golden Gate Bridge. On the tidy front lawn of your market rate or low income Site 12 rental brought to you courtesy of The John Stewart Co., it is as if you are standing at the bow of the radioactive vessel as it carries its toxic contents ever forward into a stunning red-gold sunset.
On March 24, following years of monthly RAB meetings with a skeptical Treasure Island community, the Navy announced “a radiological finding beneath a non-leased housing unit” and will “conduct radiological surveys of all the units under lease within Site 12 at the former Naval Station Treasure Island.” Supervisor Kim asks: “What is the Navy’s commitment and contribution ... to ensure that (current residents) have a safe place to live? Moreover, are there any health concerns living here on the island while the survey is being conducted?”
On Nov. 13 the San Francisco Chronicle ran a lead story written by the S.F.-based Center for Investigative Reporting. The story was about the radioactive contamination of Treasure Island, a former U.S. Navy base in the middle of the Bay. This story is important in and of itself but also because it once again unearths the region’s role in the birth of the atomic age and also highlights the radioactive legacy that continues to haunt us.