Air district votes to fine Lennar

Polluting developer subject to fines for more than a year of non-compliance

photo by Sanfranman59 / Wikicommons

by Alicia Schwartz

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), a regulatory body whose responsibilities include monitoring of air pollutants, voted unanimously to fine Lennar BVHP LLC for more than 384 days in which the developer failed to adequately protect the health and safety of the Bayview Hunters Point community.

During the Stationary Source committee meeting hearing on Lennar, the commissioners voted unanimously to hold the company accountable for their past and continued failure to correctly monitor airborne naturally occurring asbestos (NOA) as well as other heavy metals and inorganics resulting from heavy construction activity at the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard.

The commissioners listened to nearly an hour of passionate testimony from community residents and advocates, including the Stop Lennar Action Movement (SLAM), a coalition of community and faith based organizations – including Environmental Justice Advocacy, People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER), Nation of Islam Bay Area and Grace Tabernacle Community Church) – who have demanded for more than a year that Lennar temporarily stop construction on the Shipyard until residents of Bayview Hunters Point who have been exposed to such chemicals can be assessed by an independent health entity which could determine both the short and long term impacts of such an exposure.

Under the authority of the BAAQMD, the Stationary Source committee has the ability to fine Lennar between $1,000 and $25,000 per day per violation, depending upon whether or not they find that Lennar intentionally failed to follow the regulations they were legally held to. The BAAQMD board of directors, community residents and SLAM agreed that Lennar should be fined the maximum amount, which, if successful, would require that Lennar pay close to $9.6 million.

Lennar began heavy grading work back in 2005, yet failed to place crucial monitoring equipment at the site until early 2006. As a result, community residents were being exposed to toxic dust containing naturally occurring asbestos and other harmful inorganics.

Children at local schools and community residents who live near the Shipyard have complained of increased instances of asthma, nosebleeds, skin rashes and headaches since construction activities began. Though health officials from the San Francisco Department of Public Health and representatives of Lennar have maintained that their grading activities aren’t making people sick, residents and SLAM have countered that no one could know for sure without a temporary halt in construction activities and independent testing of residents who live near the site.

Both the Department of Public Health and the Tabernacle Development Group have financial ties to Lennar. As a result, many residents have questioned their ability to remain impartial.

“How can you trust a criminal to preside over their own trial?” asked Jaron Browne, organizer with People Organized to Win Employment Rights. “We already know that the people who are supposed to be watching out for the health and safety of the community are paid contractors with the Lennar Corp. We want an independent health assessment by an entity whose only interest is getting to the bottom of this situation.”

Members of the Tabernacle Development Group, composed of local preachers on contract with Lennar, also attended the meeting, complete with pre-prepared scripts and pamphlets attempting to assure community members that there were no health concerns related to the project. However, members of the board of directors for the committee were not swayed. In fact, some members were put off by the group’s message, noting precedents where Lennar was cited by the district for more than 384 days in which no monitors were present in the community once Lennar began its heaviest earthmoving work.

Several members of the board expressed frustration with Lennar, particularly due to Lennar’s attempts to reduce its responsibility from 384 days of non-compliance to fewer than 100 days of non-compliance. At one point, during the testimony of Jeff Austin, a top executive from Lennar, Director Scott Haggerty chided Austin, saying, “One thing that I don’t need you to do is to talk to me as if I’m a child. I just need you to answer the question.”

Haggerty’s frustration mirrored the frustration and anger that many community members have with Lennar, as they continue to avoid the rules that would require them to take extra measures to protect the health and safety of the hundreds of families, youth and elders who live less than one block away from the site.

“My family and I are very sick,” said Jesse Tello, a resident of the community and member of POWER. “I’m very grateful to this body for holding this company accountable for their actions in the neighborhood. These fines can help make sure that no other families will have to experience what my family is going through.”

Alicia Schwartz is an organizer with People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER) and a coalitional member of the Stop Lennar Action Movement (SLAM). For more information, contact Alicia at (415) 864-8372, ext. 302, or at alicia@peopleorganized.org.

Another victory! Youth Commission votes unanimously to stop Lennar

by Alicia Schwartz

Last night, the Stop Lennar Action Movement (SLAM) won a powerful victory at the San Francisco Youth Commission, as the commissioners voted unanimously to support a resolution – very similar to the one passed at the Board of Education – to stop environmental racism in Bayview Hunters Point at the hands of Lennar BVHP LLC.

Cassandra James and Deonna Frierson, the representatives for District 10, were two powerful voices that encouraged the other commissioners to take a stand in support of the community’s demands. Several commissioners expressed disbelief that the Board of Supervisors and other City entities have thus far failed to support the health and safety of youth and families in Bayview Hunters Point.

The brothers from the United Playaz, mama Adela and her son Octavio from Bayview, POWER’s Youth Organizer Chrissy Leuma, Daniel Landry from the Fillmore community, Jim Queen, Marie Harrison, Bishop Ernest Jackson and Francisco Da Costa provided powerful testimony that helped to further commit these young people to the struggle for environmental and social justice.