BVHP fights dirty transfer, development of HP Shipyard

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi features this happy-face photo announcing the 2004 dirty transfer of HP Shipyard Parcel A on her website. Pelosi, Sup. Sophie Maxwell and the other grinning officials knew then that the shipyard is poisoning our children.

Rally & Press Conference Thursday, 3/22, 5pm, 1800 Oakdale, and KPFA Flashpoints Radio Speakout Monday, 3/26, 5pm, 780 Valencia, SF

by Ahimsa Porter Sumchai, M.D.

“Asbestos levels on Jan. 24, 2007, were 24,600 structures per cubic meter. I don’t understand why Lennar did not shut down construction operations.” – Mike Wall, Enforcement Division, Bay Area Air Quality Management District

“There’s asbestos everywhere on the base …” – Wayne Lee, inspector, Bay Area Air Quality Management District

“If the Navy goes along with this, then it’s a good deal for the city.” – Saul Bloom, executive director, ARC Ecology, quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle 3/8/07

On March 31, 2004, a legally binding conveyance agreement was signed by H.T. Johnson, assistant secretary of the Navy, which stipulated that San Francisco will only accept conveyance of property at the former Hunters Point Shipyard following certification by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, the California Regional Water Quality Control Board and an independent consultant of the city that the land is clean and safe for development. That conveyance agreement was approved by the San Francisco Redevelopment Commission in April of 2004 and is now in effect.

On Thursday, March 8, 2007, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a front page story by staff writer Robert Selna claiming it had received a Feb. 16 memo from former city attorney Michael Cohen, now the director of base reuse for Mayor Gavin Newsom, documenting a proposal to push the dirty transfer of the Hunters Point Shipyard – a federal Superfund site – “in hope of accelerating a toxic cleanup of the property to meet the 49ers’ 2012 deadline to build a new football stadium.”

Selna’s article is representative of the biased journalism, concealment and censorship the Chronicle and Examiner have consistently demonstrated towards development issues in the Southeast sector and reads like a public relations press release designed to bolster Newsom’s reelection bid.

Selna deliberately censored opinions from an empowered and vocal constituency of the Bayview Hunters Point community who adhere to the environmental health and justice principles outlined in the November 2000 Proposition P voter mandate calling for cleanup of the shipyard to unrestricted use. That growing constituency has waged a successful political and legal campaign to block the implementation of the Bayview Hunters Point Redevelopment Plan and is preparing to take bold legal and political action to block the dirty transfer and development of the Hunters Point Shipyard.

Mayor Gavin Newsom’s campaign treasurer and cousin, Laurence Pelosi, was senior executive in charge of acquistion of the shipyard for Lennar Corporation at the time the 2004 conveyance agreement of Parcel A was signed by Newsom and the Assistant Secretary of the Navy and approved by the SFRA commission.

According to Chronicle and Examiner reports, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi “strongarmed” the Navy to sign the conveyance agreement in March of 2004 despite U.S. Defense Department reservations about the safety of the property for residential development. The Navy’s concerns stemmed from newly uncovered information about the extent of residual radiation contamination on the base published in August 2004 in a document called the Historical Radiological Assessment.

Additionally, Selna failed to include the opinions of health officials or government regulators charged with the cleanup of the shipyard to health based standards and excluded interviews with members of Bayview Hunters Point’s predominantly African American community who suffer an enormous health burden linked to environmental exposures to a confluence of polluting industries sited in the city’s Southeast sector.

According to the African American Health Disparity Project, “Bayview has the highest number of children of any community in the city, some of the biggest health problems, and the fewest number of pediatricians. One sixth of the children have asthma … and more African American babies are dying than babies of any other racial group in San Francisco as well as in all of California.”

Instead, Selna quotes Saul Bloom, executive director of ARC Ecology, identifying the organization as “a nonprofit that helps communities plan for the closure and cleanup of military bases.” Bloom is, in actuality, the recipient of a $300,000 grant from the Coastal Conservancy to prepare a master plan for a shoreline park at the former shipyard along the southern perimeter of Parcel E – the largest and most toxic of the shipyard’s five land parcels. The deal for dirty transfer of the shipyard would definitely be good for Saul Bloom!

The San Francisco Redevelopment Agency and Arc Ecology entered into a cooperative agreement that specifies Arc’s role in managing the Hunters Point shoreline master plan process in 2004.

Ironically, Bloom and Arc Ecology are also funded to review air monitoring data from four “community” air monitoring stations situated on the perimeter of Parcel A at the site of grading and excavation of a hillside that is comprised of serpentinite rock, a natural source of asbestos and arsenic.

Manmade asbestos is also present in buildings and underground insulation on Parcel A. The property was transferred to the city in 2004 with deed restrictions notifying the public that asbestos, lead, petroleum products and residual toxic soil contaminants were not cleaned up by the Navy in the near decade from base closure to conveyance of the property.

On Saturday, March 10, Bloom and Department of Public Health representative Amy Brownell, the site mitigation engineer for Phase I development of the shipyard, met to review data from the community air monitoring stations. According to scientist Raymond Tompkins, Bloom and Brownell expressed full support for the “accelerated clean up plan” for the shipyard proposed by the Newsom administration.

In a move that exemplifies Arc Ecology’s blatant financial and ethical conflicts of interest, Bloom voiced support for the dirty transfer and development of the shipyard in the Chronicle article while in possession of recent data documenting that toxic dust from the Parcel A construction site detected in the four community monitors has elevated asbestos levels, threatening the health and safety of workers and the surrounding low income community of color.

According to Brownell, the air monitors have detected exceedances in asbestos levels greater than 16,000 structures per cubic meter in recent weeks. This is the concentration designated as a “work suspension level.” Inside sources report that in January of 2007, asbestos detected by Parcel A air monitors reached critical levels warranting work suspensions, but Lennar Corp. refused to shut down shipyard operations.

In August of 2006 the San Francisco Redevelopment Commission shut down Lennar’s operations following a series of work suspensions due to elevated asbestos levels detected by the system of air monitors on the base operated by both Lennar and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

As a result of a cursory investigation conducted by the Department of Public Health that included no laboratory tests for arsenic, lead or pulmonary function tests, exposed workers and school children were deemed “unharmed” by the toxic dust exposure, according to a memo to the SFRA from Health Director Dr. Mitchell Katz.

Wayne Lee, an inspector with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, says the BAAQMD has two sets of monitors on Parcel A. To his knowledge they have not documented asbestos levels high enough to warrant work suspension in recent weeks, but Lee admits he is not sure. Lee says it is his responsibility to survey the construction site every day for offsite dust migration and to check the air monitoring results.

Mike Wall, head of the Enforcement Division of the BAAQMD, reviewed air monitoring data from January and expressed surprise to find asbestos levels on Jan. 24 reached a shocking level of 24,600 structures per cubic meter. A level of 16,000 required Lennar to suspend work. His data proves that Lennar continued construction activities through the high asbestos levels documented on Jan. 12 and Jan. 24.

In addition to the air district’s air monitoring stations on Parcel A, Lennar has two sets of air monitors but will not release the data to the public.

In response to last fall’s community and worker outcry, four community air monitors were sited along the Parcel A perimeter as well as a site specific monitor at Muhammad University of Islam elementary school, alongside the shipyard fence where Lennar is moving massive amounts of earth.

Lee calls the data from these monitors “unverifiable and outside the purview of the air district’s standards.” He believes these air monitors can be easily tampered with to produce fraudulently high or low results. “There’s asbestos everywhere on the base and all someone has to do is throw a handful of dirt at these monitors.”

Community experts counter that the Air District’s monitors are sited at high levels to avoid tampering but conceivably would not detect toxic dust generated at ground level, where it would expose shipyard workers and school aged children to asbestos, lead and fine particulates. The Air District monitors are designed to detect offsite migrations of toxic dust that compromise the air quality of the surrounding community.

According to Saul Bloom, Department of Public Health representative Amy Brownell proposed dismantling the community monitors altogether to redress the confusion as to whether the high asbestos levels detected in both the community monitors and Lennar’s air monitoring stations are coming from construction activities on Parcel A or the Navy’s cleanup activities on nearby Parcel B.

Mayor Newsom proposes to site the 49ers football stadium at the boundary between Parcels E and D, the shipyard properties with the highest level of radiation contaminated soils, buildings and underground sewer systems. The main laboratories, animal kennels and storehouses of the Naval Radiological Defense laboratories were housed on Parcels D and E and along the southern border of Parcel A, where Lennar is currently preparing to build 1,600 homes.

The Chronicle and Examiner editorial boards continue to censor and conceal the well documented political, ethical and financial conflicts of interest existing between the mayor, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the shipyard’s master developer, Lennar of Miami.

Lennar is the national home builder with the largest number of lawsuits stemming from residential development on brownfields and other toxic properties. Lennar brings no expertise to the construction of a stadium mall complex and has seen a fall in profits over the last year.

It remains dubious why Mayor Newsom wants to speedily transfer federal funds earmarked for cleanup of the shipyard to a residential builder on property so toxic residential development is all but omitted in the shipyard redevelopment plan approved by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1997.

Intelligent observers assume the mayor plans to site residential development on Parcels D and E given his failed proposal to construct an Olympic village at the shipyard in regions not cleaned to residential standards.

The dirty transfer of the shipyard would accelerate the cleanup process if Lennar can continue to enjoy mainstream media concealment of its dangerous construction operations and health department sanctioning of its violations of occupational health, environmental justice and government regulator standards designed to protect public safety and the environment.

Even if the Newsom administration cannot speedily transfer and develop the shipyard in time to meet the 49ers deadline for stadium construction in 2012, dirty transfer of the shipyard for the City to hand it over to Lennar offers the mayor the opportunity for another “land grab” in Bayview Hunters Point and an opportunity to rezone the shipyard for the residential and mixed use development Lennar really wants it for.

The San Francisco 49ers publicly expressed their unwillingness to work with Lennar and 49ers owners report Newsom has been inaccessible to them and does not return phone calls. San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed believes the San Francisco 49ers should stay in San Francisco, “but if they can’t, Santa Clara is fine, as long as they stay in the Bay Area. They are a regional asset.”

The mainstream media continues to censor the ongoing exposures to Lennar’s toxic dust that residents, workers and school children have endured since April of 2006.

The San Francisco Department of Public Health has failed to devise protocols for human exposure analysis to toxins at the shipyard and does not politically advocate on behalf of exposed populations at the shipyard, including the artist colony with studios in Building 101 adjacent to Parcel A construction activities, the latest victims of exposure to toxic dust and residual radiation in indoor vents and drains.

An experienced, resourceful and strengthened community of mothers, activists, health professionals and legal representatives are meeting to prepare a class action lawsuit and to take political and administrative actions to defeat the corporate and city government corruption that is threatening the lives and damaging the health of children in Bayview Hunters Point.

Contact Bay View Health and Environmental Science Editor Dr. Ahimsa Porter Sumchai at (415) 835-4763 or asumchai@sfbayview.com.

Fightback rally and radio speakout; Guardian article in support

The entire Bayview Hunters Point community and our supporters are invited and urged to turn out for a rally and press conference and, a few days later, for a radio speakout to protest the refusal by the City and its Master Development Lennar to protect the health of our people, and especially our children, from the poisons at the Hunters Point Shipyard, a Superfund site.

On Thursday, March 22, 5 p.m., come to the Southeast Campus of City College, 1800 Oakdale Ave., at Phelps, in Hunters Point for a rally and press conference. This issue is hot and plenty of press and TV cameras will be there, so bring your family, friends, signs, chants and outrage. Then attend the RAB (Restoration Advisory Board) meeting downstairs in the Alex Pitcher Room.

On Monday, March 26, 5 p.m., the hour-long Flashpoints show on KPFA 94.1 FM will be devoted to the BVHP community for a radio speakout that will be heard nationwide on dozens of stations, live at www.kpfa.org and archived at www.flashpoints.net. Again, bring a crowd to fill the studio at New College, 780 Valencia St., San Francisco. Be prepared to speak your mind and your heart to tell the world: Save the children!

To our amazed delight, the feature story – 4,610 words long! – in this week’s San Francisco Bay Guardian, headlined “The corporation that ate San Francisco: Lennar’s failures at Hunters Point Shipyard highlight the risk of putting the Bay Area’s prime real estate into the hands of profit-driven developers,” bolsters our battle tremendously. “We intend to continue pushing these issues in the coming months and right up through the mayor’s race,” Guardian City Editor Steve Jones wrote in an email to the Bay View.

Finally, the poisoning of our children and everyone in the vicinity of Lennar’s work at the HP Shipyard by forces under the control of Mayor Gavin Newsom has hit the big time media. Grab a copy of the Guardian or read the story online at http://www.sfbg.com/printable_entry.php?entry_id=3084, including this critical excerpt under the heading “LEGAL PROBLEMS”:

“Uncertainty and fear were on display at the Redevelopment Agency’s December 2006 meeting when [Minister Christopher] Muhammad claimed that serpentinite, arsenic, and antimony had been found on his students and staff through ‘resonance testing.’

“Lung cancer experts doubt that methodology, telling us the only way to detect serpentinite in bodies is by doing an autopsy.

“Following the minister’s claims, a rattled [Lennar spokesman Kofi] Bonner told the Redevelopment Agency, ‘Lennar cannot continue to be accused of covering something up or willfully poisoning the community because of profits. Lennar is a national public company, and the accusations and allegations are very serious.’

“Unfortunately for Lennar and the city, the company’s failures to monitor and control dust have left both entities exposed, since they formed a limited liability company without extensive resources, Lennar BVHP, to conduct the shipyard cleanup.

“This exposure became even more evident when Muhammad returned to the Redevelopment Agency Commission in January with 15 MUI [Muhammad University of Islam] students in tow to ask for a temporary shutdown of Lennar’s site until a permanent relocation of the school had been worked out.

“It doesn’t seem proper to have peace discussions while the other side is still shooting,’ Muhammad said.

“His relocation request got Bayview-Hunters Point community activist Espanola Jackson raising more questions: ‘OK, but where are the other residents going? How can you displace them? Have the residents on Kiska Road been notified? Or on Palou? Nope. You give people dollars to do outreach, but they don’t come to my door. Someone is being paid to not give the truth.’”