by Carol Harvey
Part Three: What we’ve done for ‘you residents’
Is the Treasure Island Development Authority board hearing San Franciscans’ concerns about radiation and chemical contamination, earthquake liquefaction risks and displaced persons’ relocation rights? Actually, no!
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, as they clearly stated, they feel unheard and their issues ignored, presented their concerns.
First, their worst fears were triggered when a former Treasure Island Navy wife from Virginia displayed a disturbing photo of her three-day-old daughter’s bloated red face, as if burned by radiation or chemicals. She wondered how officials could bring new residents onto a contaminated base.
Then, Jeff Kline, 15-year Treasure Island resident, confronted the board on its violation of federal, state and city law governing displaced persons. Why are islanders treated differently from mainland San Francisco renters and denied Last Resort Housing benefits like those the Board of Supervisors extended to citizens forced out by the Central Subway project? Instead, much-restricted Transitional Housing Rules and Regulations govern island relocation.
A woman from Yerba Buena Island questioned whether TIDA and the John Stewart Co. were transferring evicted Yerba Buena Islanders into truly equivalent housing, citing less square footage. On behalf of close neighbors – teenagers, parents and grandparents – she asked that a six-member family not suffer hardship jammed into a townhouse with only one bathroom.
Two Yerba Buenans begged that the 40 families be kept together, one citing protection from Treasure Island break-ins, the other emphasizing their community’s closeness.
Then, Kline tossed a massive monkey wrench into TIDA’s tidy agenda. He presented the UC Berkeley seismologists’ April 2, 2015, press release announcing their literally “groundbreaking” earthquake study. This report documented “that the Hayward Fault is essentially a branch of the Calaveras Fault that runs east of San Jose, which means that both could rupture together, resulting in a significantly more destructive earthquake than previously thought.”
In a simultaneous trembler, the energy released could be 2.5 times greater than previous estimates, which measured a magnitude 7.3. Shocks are now predicted to be five or six times more powerful.
In addition, Kline revealed that, immediately after the Loma Prieta quake, a 1989 Navy study of Treasure Island targeted the bottom stiff clay layer as more vulnerable than the two top levels of silt and mud. The Navy’s study showed that the most danger to Treasure Island comes from the ability of the stiff clay layer below the fill and mud to transmit earthquake energy to the island’s surface. The Navy report stated, “The high stiffness with shear strain exhibited by these deposits in comparison with normal clays is shown as a function of high plasticity and should be a warning to engineers of potential site amplification of ground motion from distant earthquakes.”
Lennar geo-engineers’ online plans to densify island soil against quakes by pounding dirt with compacters discuss only the two top layers of silt and mud, not this deeper, more fragile clay.
Stymied by funding shortfalls, the TIDA board’s seven commissioners have invested massive time and effort in years of monthly meetings and subcommittee sessions viewing power point presentations by a never-ending parade of developer Lennar’s geo-engineers and technical experts. After years of delays caused by funding shortfalls, when a Yerba Buena island resident asked where TIDA would obtain more redevelopment funds, the board had no answer.
The meeting’s rolling tide of polite demands and wrenching revelations placed increased pressure on the TIDA board whose plans for Yerba Buena Island and Treasure Island are controlled behind the scenes by powerful shadow forces.
Five years ago, on a bright, sunny Tuesday, during remarks at the Aug. 17, 2010, Treasure Island Naval Station Transfer Agreement Ceremony, Nancy Pelosi repeatedly smiled and acknowledged former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown seated before her. Then, Pelosi, her close friend, U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Mayor Gavin Newsom signed the terms for the conveyance of former Naval Station Treasure Island from the Navy to the City. These politicians had solidified this agreement in the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act.
As early as 1997, former State Assemblyman Brown used his leverage in Sacramento to pass legislation making the Treasure Island Development Authority a state agency. Brown made certain, as well, that the TIDA board would be a City entity totally under Da Mayor’s thumb. TIDA directors and commissioners are mayorally appointed – with the ever-present Brown whispering into successors’ ears. Brown also removed islanders’ just cause eviction rights and redress under the San Francisco Rent and Stabilization Board.
In another political context, Kline’s introduction of the seismologists’ press release, a matter of serious public concern, would have been welcomed as crucial new information. Perhaps it was the realpolitik of the situation – the unseen presence of Feinstein, Pelosi and Brown – that forced past TIDA Board President Linda Richardson to react defensively to questions and pressures that Kline’s new information raised.
Richardson went on the offensive, launching a diatribe to take control of a roomful of adults with the repeated command word “should,” as if she were scolding and ordering about disobedient children.
Could she have been motivated by two possible fears: 1) Further delays. Seismologists’ verification that stronger earthquakes are a real possibility might force Lennar, “our private partner,” into overtime that would mean incorporating new information into its plans; or 2) Perceived loss of control over an individual and, by extension, all San Franciscans? Or perhaps she was merely irritated at the tsunami of citizen criticism.
Her repeated use of “should” seemed an attempt to maintain a firmer grip on board authority to keep powerful puppet-masters at bay.
Instead of thanking Kline, Commissioner Richardson silenced irrefutable scientific facts, then seemed to retreat to a lofty height from which she peered down. She reminded the audience what TIDA has done for “you residents of the City and County of San Francisco.”
Wait! Screeching halt!
San Francisco voters never asked the TIDA board to do favors for “you residents.” A 2010 SF Public Press investigative piece by journalists Alison Hawkes and Bernice Yeung, “Through two mayors, connected island developers cultivated profitable deal,” documented that, in 1998, when “San Francisco voters attempted to wrest power from (former Mayor Willie) Brown and install good-governance practices for Treasure Island, … supervisors never implemented many of the provisions in the ballot measure, which passed easily.”
Commissioner Richardson directed her remarks through Kline to the assemblage: “We wish that you were at the geo-tech presentation that Commissioner Tsen was alluding to. We spent hours!”
We provide engineers who are earthquake experts
“One thing we know,” she continued: “San Francisco has some of the finest geo-tech engineers in the world out here.”
Buried in an avalanche of interruptions by Richardson and Lennar representative Julian Pancoast, Kline attempted to point out that, because the Berkeley seismologists’ findings are from a very recent study reported April 2, 2015, it is doubtful that in two weeks’ time, Lennar’s redevelopment team had, in Richardson’s words, “covered all your questions about earthquakes and variations of levels of sand and mud.”
We make the information available to ‘you residents’
“And what we’ve done again [on] behalf of you residents here in the City and County of San Francisco,” Richardson continued, “is we created a committee (the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee) so we can really spend hours and hours and hours with all the experts. And those meetings are available to the public.”
She then suggested that San Franciscans, people with jobs and mothers with children, must stay current with TIDA’s redevelopment plans by spending “hours and hours and hours” attending the board’s many weekday meetings which, to date, number over 200.
Besides attending meetings to be informed, San Franciscans are expected to read thousands of pages of studies, reports and PDF appendices on TIDA’s website.
After years of geo-engineers’ reports, don’t board members have information at their fingertips sufficient to supply short, direct answers with actual content to one-time attendees without tossing out generalizations and vague responses or referring them to websites, past minutes or future meetings? And, as demonstrated by Jeff Kline’s revelation about the Berkeley seismologists’ study, some material might be missing from the geo-engineers’ lengthy online reports.
“And we still have all those engineers,” Richardson emphasized.
Has TIDA amassed teams of engineers and geotechnical experts so huge that they are too big to fail – so large they could not possibly make errors, miss information or go wrong? Does mere size render meaningless, irrelevant or insignificant input from this small San Francisco group?
Powerful state and city agencies back redevelopment
“So not only are we having our regular meetings here where we update you; we also have other avenues,” promised Richardson.
“[You] can look at the list of the city agencies. We also have state agencies that are involved with this – Caltrans. All of these people are working together.”
Does this suggest an authoritative force far more powerful than “you residents?”
A search of the TIDA website and a call to the office revealed no listing of state or city agencies supporting redevelopment. (Perhaps, since I requested this material at the May 13, 2015, board meeting, it has been uploaded, but I still cannot find it. Maybe you can.)
Further, would these agencies be asking questions about a two-week-old study?
“So, we’re doing this in a meticulous way and everything. Take advantage of all these presentations that are taking place. And any question that you (pause) raise – the staff will engage, and you will be able to observe the engineers.”
Citizens may not just want to “observe” the engineers and technical people but actually ask them questions. When I wanted to query Pancoast directly, I was silenced. Both TIDA Commissioner Richardson and Lennar Project Manager Pancoast cut off San Francisco resident Kline, not allowing him to “engage.”
Is the magnitude of the redevelopment project – a model for the entire world – more powerful than a 7.0 earthquake?
“When you have the magnitude of a project like this,” concluded Richardson, “believe me, everything that has been done by our development private partner (stakeholder Lennar) and the City of San Francisco – this is a model project for the entire world.”
Citizens of the City and County of San Francisco who bring habitability or safety concerns to TIDA’s attention do so not primarily for the board’s benefit but for the wellbeing of San Franciscans living on Treasure Island and Yerba Buena Island who are affected by board decisions. Instead of passing off the input as nothing, interrupting the speaker and blocking discussion with walls of words, the wisest political course might have been to thank these citizens, invite them to expand on their input, ask them questions and publicly reassure them that the TIDA board will try to resolve their problems.
For Treasure Island truly to be a showcase for the world, commissioners have a responsibility to avoid launching into steamrolling diatribes, forcing the project forward against warnings of serious danger.
Even if the seismologists’ new findings have the potential to throw years of work into disarray, the board must demonstrate to the San Francisco public that TIDA has urged engineers and architects to study and consider the data carefully before barreling ahead with construction.
The board must fully acknowledge these two faults are connected and that Navy research indicates the friable clay layer below the mud and silt has increased vulnerability to earthquakes, making them five or six times more powerful. Ignoring such warnings could result in the shining towers of TIDA’s showcase for the world collapsing and plunging 20,000 new Treasure Islanders into the dark, toxic waters of San Francisco Bay.
Carol Harvey is a San Francisco political journalist specializing in human rights and civil rights. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.