Hunters Point is yours! Claim it!

It’s about our health; It’s about our jobs: Shipyard cleanup, shipyard development

by Willie Ratcliff

In Hunters Point, our lives and our livelihoods are tightly tied to the fate of the Hunters Point Shipyard, and we must have a seat at the negotiating table as its fate is decided. Only two parties are now at the table, the Navy and the Mayor’s office, with the EPA and ATSDR off to the side offering advice. Each of them has a role to play, but none of them speaks for our community.

Every legal document relating to the decommissioning of the Shipyard, its cleanup and its transfer to the City for development describes Bayview Hunters Point as the intended beneficiary. The stated purpose of the cleanup is to protect our health, and the stated purpose of development is the economic revitalization of our community.

The EPA law governing cleanup of Superfund sites gives the surrounding community the power to determine how clean is clean. It requires the Navy to clean up the Shipyard to our satisfaction.

The first major step toward seating our community at the negotiating table will be made Tuesday, March 27, when District 10 Supervisor Sophie Maxwell, chair of the Public Health and Environment Committee, holds a hearing on the implementation of Proposition P, the Hunters Point Shipyard Clean-up Initiative. “The people of Bayview Hunters Point and the City and County of San Francisco have waited over 20 years to have the Shipyard properly cleaned up,” says Maxwell. Her request for the hearing was co-sponsored by every member of the Board of Supervisors.

Supervisor Maxwell has requested that “federal, local and community representatives attend the hearing to discuss how government agencies are working with the community to ensure the cleanup of the Shipyard to Prop P standards.” Top Navy and EPA officials from Washington, D.C. are expected to attend. 

San Franciscans are all on the same side of this issue. Prop P won by a landslide on Nov. 7 with 87 percent of the vote. This hearing is a historic opportunity for us to show what solidarity can do. I’ll be looking for everyone who can get away at 10 a.m. Tuesday to be at City Hall in the Supervisors’ hearing room on the second floor.

We have the power now to determine the destiny of the Shipyard and of our community if we seize this opportunity. I hate to think of what will happen if we don’t.

If the community continues to be excluded from the decision-making process, who will protect our health? Just this morning, a man who lives near the Shipyard called to say he’s been sick ever since the Navy’s 46-acre toxic landfill caught fire last August and to ask if a lawsuit is in the works.

A story in yesterday’s Chronicle warns us to get involved. Remember the crisis in Novato on the old Hamilton Air Force Base where methane gas from a capped military dump is threatening new homes? Now parents in Novato are fighting the Navy’s donation of land for a school that would be “one-quarter mile from an old Army dump where methane gas is leaking and toxic chemicals such as lead, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), benzene, pesticides and dioxins, have been found. The landfill was capped in 1995,” the Chronicle reports.

A parent is quoted saying, “‘We’re about protecting children’s health, not defining how much chemical poisons their small, growing bodies can handle.’” We, too, must speak up for our children. We must demand complete and immediate removal of the Shipyard landfill, which is much larger and more toxic than the one in Novato.

If the community continues to be excluded from the decision-making process, who will claim the jobs and contracts at the Shipyard that are rightfully ours? Over the last several months, the Navy says it has spent some $5 million on capping the landfill. How much of that money was earned by our people? Every dollar earned at the Shipyard should be putting food on our children’s plates.

I’m looking right now at the front page of the Bay View (then the New Bayview) dated Nov. 19, 1993. The headline reads: “Navy Excludes Community from $40 Million in Shipyard Cleanup Work,” and the story, written by Louise Vaughn, begins, “Officials of the Navy and its contractors stunned residents of Bayview Hunters Point Wednesday. Forty million dollars have already been spent, they said, to clean up the Hunters Point Shipyard, and all the contractors and crews performing the work have come in from outside the community.

“The officials, speaking at a meeting of the New Bayview Committee, said that they did not know there were any contractors in the area, and they admitted they had made no effort to find any.”

The story continues, “At one point in the meeting a Navy official told the audience to ‘trust me,’ prompting veteran community advocate Harold Brooks to tell of his 12 year stint in the Navy. ‘They wouldn’t let me train as a machinist because machinists make too much money.’ He said that excluding local contractors and workers from the work at the Shipyard shows the Navy hasn’t changed its attitude toward African Americans.”

About a year later, a small group of Bayview Hunters Point young people, including young mothers with babies in strollers, blockaded the Shipyard entrance and stopped traffic for three days. 

Here we are, seven years later, still facing the same old economic and environmental racism from federal and local officials. It’s time we took charge. Come to the hearing Tuesday and take your seat at the table.