Stop Shipyard land grab

Photo: Francisco da Costa

by Willie Ratcliff, Ahimsa Sumchai, M.D., and Francisco da Costa

Privatization of the Hunters Point Shipyard through the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency has so far been blocked by the ferocious opposition of the Bayview Hunters Point community. Now the mayor and a current and former supervisor are pushing a new and, up to now, secret privatization plan to create something called the Hunters Point Shipyard Development Authority.

Residents of Bayview Hunters Point, as victims of some of the most deadly military base pollution in the country, demand instead that the community control development of the Shipyard, once it is completely cleaned up by the Navy. Legally, according to the law governing base closures and all the agreements for the eventual transfer of the Shipyard from the Navy to the City, the surrounding community – Bayview Hunters Point – is the Shipyard’s intended beneficiary.

In the Black community, we consider control of Shipyard development a matter of Reparations. And we look on the proposal to give the Shipyard away to a Hunters Point Shipyard Development Authority, nicknamed HUPSDA by its would-be creators, as a mammoth land grab.

A story in Friday’s Chronicle announcing another land grab, this one at Treasure Island, gives us a clue to the motivation for the Shipyard plot. “Two leading financial backers of San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown and other state Democrats have secured exclusive rights to negotiate a deal to develop the former Navy base at Treasure and Yerba Buena islands,” the article begins.

“The mayoral-appointed Treasure Island Development Authority board voted unanimously Wednesday to send the city into exclusive talks on a development deal for the base with Treasure Island Community Development LLC,” led, the Chronicle reports, by some local high rollers and, most ominously, the notorious Lennar Corp. from Florida. The deal would give these land grabbers “a guaranteed return of 25 percent on a company investment of $40 million,” according to the Chronicle.

Lennar, the nation’s largest home builder, is the company that has been paid for the past several years by the Redevelopment Agency to wait in the wings to become the “master developer” for the Hunters Point Shipyard once all or parcels of the Shipyard are transferred by the Navy to the City. One reason our community has so fiercely opposed that privatization scheme is that Lennar is notorious for building several hundred new homes in Florida on its own dump – a dump largely filled with flammable rubber tires.

In San Francisco, Lennar has been pushing for the immediate “dirty transfer” of Shipyard land adjacent to the Shipyard’s main dump, one of the most toxic and radioactive dumps in the nation, where Lennar wants to build several hundred new homes. Lennar’s Florida experience qualifies it well for such a genocidal role.

We would not be surprised if Lennar is one of the forces pushing former supervisor and now Assemblyman Mark Leno, with support from Mayor Willie Brown and Supervisor Sophie Maxwell, to pass Assembly Bill 1187, the Hunters Point Shipyard Development Authority Act of 2003, to create HUPSDA. This bill, a secret scheme hatched with no notice whatsoever to the community and including no benefits for the community, is pure privatization, robbing the people of San Francisco and Bayview Hunters Point of some of the most beautiful and valuable land in the world, the 550-acre Hunters Point Shipyard.

This bill, AB 1187, and its companion, AB 768, are not only a land grab but a power grab too. One reason the idea is attractive to Supervisor Maxwell, she has said, is that, unlike the Treasure Island Development Authority whose members are all appointed by the mayor, HUPSDA allows the District 10 supervisor to recommend half the appointments. And one reason the scheme appeals to the mayor is that, if passed, it would take effect next Jan. 1, giving Mayor Brown the week before he leaves office to appoint his half of the people who will be in a position to give away the rights to the incalculably valuable Hunters Point Shipyard.

San Francisco is good at giving away its wealth to private corporations based outside the City. According to the City’s own records, during the height of the boom-time airport expansion project, San Francisco gave 98 percent of its billions of construction dollars to white male-owned outside firms.

Making matters worse is the ban of all Blacks from the construction industry imposed for five years now by those same firms and enforced by their cronies at City Hall. No wonder the City, and particularly Bayview Hunters Point, has been bleeding Black folks – 20,000 in the last decade, a higher proportion than any other city in the country – forced onto the streets (67 percent of homeless people in San Francisco come from Bayview Hunters Point, according to City records) or to someplace far away from the homes and beloved community where they had lived for generations.

This racist corruption, which has led to San Francisco’s looming $350 million deficit, is threatening even more lives with cuts to critical health and social services. We expect the mayor’s race to reveal which candidate will pledge to rid the City of racist corruption.

After the three of us, along with Espanola Jackson, Kevin Williams and Andrew Bozeman, met with Assemblyman Leno on Friday, he agreed to cancel an April 23 hearing in Sacramento on AB 1187 until the issue can be brought up for a hearing by the Board of Supervisors. He refused to cancel the bill itself, saying he is sponsoring it at the request of Supervisor Maxwell. She had said earlier that it was she and Mayor Brown who designed HUPSDA.

Yesterday, Supervisor Maxwell introduced a resolution backing the bill before the Board of Supervisors. We expect the Board to resoundingly defeat this betrayal of the community that puts corporate greed above the people’s interests.

And we demand that the Board of Supervisors get to work on some of the other crises at the Shipyard: the fact that not a single parcel of the Shipyard is clean despite overwhelming support from San Francisco voters for Proposition P requiring cleanup to the highest standard and despite the Navy’s spending of some $350 million so far on “cleanup,” that hardly a single dollar of the fortune has been spent with local Black businesses or workers, that our people are suffering and dying from Shipyard pollution every day, that new evidence of radiological contamination is coming to light, including in Mariners Village, the residential neighborhood now outside but previously inside the Shipyard’s boundaries, that not a single inch of the Shipyard has yet been archeologically surveyed despite the presence there of two large burial sites of the Muwekma Ohlone, the First People of the land that we now call the Hunters Point Shipyard. Let us all go to the hearing that the Supervisors are likely to schedule on this HUPSDA land grab and tell them about their duty to the people, past and present, of Hunters Point.