The TIDA board plunges into redevelopment, burying Yerba Buena and Treasure Islanders’ concerns: A tragedy in three parts – Part Two

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by Carol Harvey

Part Two: How the TIDA board blocked earthshattering news

Treasure Island: Your Contamination Destination – Photo: Carol Harvey
Treasure Island: Your Contamination Destination – Photo: Tom

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!

Treasure Island Development Authority board members employ gambits that squelch public comment and questions.

Replacing direct answers with generalizations is big.

“We’ll cover that in future meetings” – frequent.

“We’ll get back to you” – another.

“Apparently, you haven’t read our reports or attended meetings.”

“We’ve discussed this forever.” (You were – where?)

(“Actually, I work weekdays during your meetings” or “I was home making lunch for my kids, walking them to the bus or driving them back to school.”)

Citizen comments are – politely or not – interrupted. Or avoided.

Yerba Buena Island resident Betty Mackey asks Treasure Island Development Authority Board President V. Fei Tsen why Congress passed a bill releasing $10 million to fund toxic cleanup on Treasure Island if there is no radiation danger? She also asked where TIDA will get redevelopment funds. Tsen gives no answer to Mackey’s first question and passes off the second question to TIDA Director Bob Beck.

With Yerba Buena islanders’ displacement imminent, six community members were present and vocal during the April 8, 2015, on-island meeting. The small group established politely assertive staying power. They asked a question which has for years remained front and center in collective City awareness.

Artful dodger

It is public knowledge that Lennar constantly runs out of funds. Betty Mackey revisited a question raised on April 12, 2013, when the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the Chinese rejected Mayor Lee’s request for a $1.7 billion loan for Treasure Island redevelopment. “I was trying to understand,” Mackey said, “how they will move forward with infrastructural planning when there’s been no announcement of funding for the redevelopment.”

When Betty Mackey asks where the Treasure Island Development Authority will get redevelopment funding, TIDA Board President Tsen gives no answer, but refers Mackey to future meetings.

Instead of offering an answer containing dollar amounts, President Tsen dodged the question. “In a future board meeting, we will have the financial plan be presented by the various teams that are working on that.”

I attended the next board meeting Wednesday, May 13, 2015. A budget description was appended to the pre-meeting published agenda, but neither full disclosure on TIDA’s budget nor this perennially murky funding question were covered by “various teams working on that.”

Should a date for some future redevelopment budget presentation ever be announced, it would behoove fiscally concerned San Franciscans to show up and find out how their tax money is spent.

We’ll look into that

When public comment opens, instead of direct, short, informative answers, one hears standardized content-less responses.

As much as some might want to escape Toxic Island, the only relocation benefits proffered to renters on either island is the THRR, a set of Transitional Housing Rules and Regulations that govern internal movement from one island residence to another. The THRR is enforced by TIDA and market rate mafia don, John Stewart.

Fairness in the THRR is dubious. Mackey delivered an impassioned plea on behalf of a large Yerba Buena Island family with whom she is close. Their household includes “six adults – a teenager at 14, a teenager at 17 and a 20-something-year-old, a grandparent and two parents – who have two bathrooms in their YBI housing.” When they move to Treasure Island, THRR will lop off a bathroom. “Losing a second bathroom is going to be a significant hardship on these people. That’s a real stressor on a family that is that big,” Mackey urged.

She twice approached the past director about this kind of problem and got “zero” response. “We feel ignored,” she said.

Commissioner Tsen tossed Mackey’s request sideways like the proverbial hot potato to Island Director Robert Beck. Without making eye contact with Mackey or Tsen, Beck explained that the rules don’t consider the needs of a family based on its size. THRR regulations base comparability between units solely on number of bedrooms and square footage. His promise to “go back and look at that information again to confirm that and get back with her” was hardly reassuring.

If Yerba Buenans understand – Navy cleanup assurances aside – that radiation and chemicals can never be completely removed and many Treasure Islanders are ill, they know, when they descend from that mountain, they and their children face sickness and death. Betty Mackey’s second question danced around that grinding worry.

“In January of this year, Congress passed $38 million in funding for cleanup of contamination at Hunters Point and Treasure Island, $10 million of which is designated for Treasure Island. We’ve been told for many, many years now that the contamination on Treasure Island is all background and is not dangerous. So why do they need $10  million more dollars. I’m curious about that.”

How can you bring people to a contaminated island?

Interjections in short bursts while a citizen struggles to speak is remarkably effective in burying information. This technique was employed with great success on an out-of-state visitor and a Treasure Island resident.

Just as the meeting was starting, a woman in the front row addressed the room in a Hispanic accent. TIDA Board President Tsen invited her to the mike. This Navy wife had traveled from Burke, Virginia, near Washington, D.C.

“I have a family that lived here in 1989. And I came to the most beautiful place on earth.” Her smile turned angry as she described visiting the site of her demolished former home near the Bigelow Court exclusion zone. She was “so disappointed that the place that I used to live, the best place on earth, it was the most poisoned place on earth.

“How can they close this base and give it to other people when it’s contaminated?” she cried.

Then she held up a photo of her baby daughter born on the island. How could a three-day-old face be so horribly swollen and burned? President Tsen began a series of vocalizations interrupting the woman’s urgent warnings. Unable to continue, the woman headed for the door out of which she was summarily ushered by TIDA Director Robert Beck.

The board plowed on as if the woman was never there. President Tsen did not answer Mackey’s question.

This newborn was exposed to the Navy’s radiation and chemicals on Treasure Island and was born burned.
This newborn was exposed to the Navy’s radiation and chemicals on Treasure Island and was born burned.

If I ever get out of here

Semi-polite and blatantly rude staccato interruptions placed a series of brakes between Jeff Kline’s revelations on displaced persons’ benefits and his startling earthquake news.

Kline, a 15-year Treasure Island resident, challenged the board’s authority in violating federal and state law governing tenant relocation benefits. Kline pointed out that when islanders sign leases, they are simultaneously forced to relinquish displacement rights.

The Waiver and Release section of John Stewart leases states: “You will not be entitled to any relocation benefits provided under URA or Title 25. If you have to move or your rent is increased as a result of the above (redevelopment) project, you will not be reimbursed for any such rent increase or for any costs or expenses incurred by you in connection with a move as a result of the project.”

Jeff Kline is the Treasure Island resident who warned the board about stronger earthquakes and castigated them for not honoring federal and state displaced persons’ rights.
Jeff Kline is the Treasure Island resident who warned the board about stronger earthquakes and castigated them for not honoring federal and state displaced persons’ rights.

Going boldly where no one has gone before, Kline strode to the microphone and delivered the following unwelcome barrage of information, concluding his remarks through Tsen’s interruptions: Mayor Willie Brown, who vested TIDA, and Michael Cohen, a lawyer representing the City, authored legislation that deprived Treasure Island and Yerba Buena Island tenants of Residential Relocation Assistance Program benefits like those enjoyed by all other San Francisco tenants, most recently City residents displaced by San Francisco’s Central Subway Project, when in July 2010 the area was taken by eminent domain to extend the Third Street Light Rail line to the Financial District and Chinatown.

Title 25 (25 CCR 6002 2011) is the U.S. government’s “guarantee of relocation assistance and last resort housing. Its purpose is to ensure that uniform, fair, and equitable treatment is afforded persons displaced from their homes, businesses or farms as the result of the actions of a public entity in order that such persons shall not suffer disproportionate injury as a result of action taken for the benefit of the public as a whole.”

California’s (URA) Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970, as amended, “The Uniform Act,” echoes Title 25’s language.

On Sept. 16, 2010, The San Francisco Board of Supervisors signed a memorandum approving The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority (SFMTA) Central Subway Project Relocation Impact Study and Last Resort Housing Plan.

“Federal regulations guarantee a rent differential payment of up to $5,250 to assist permanently displaced households in either renting or purchasing a replacement dwelling.

“Such assistance will also include providing social services, moving assistance and replacement housing payments. Under federal law, residential tenants are entitled to 42 months of housing payments, based on the difference between the rent of a comparable replacement unit and the old rent or the difference between the rent of a comparable replacement unit and 30 percent of the tenant’s monthly income, whichever is less. Normally, the replacement housing payment is capped at $5,250; however, when it is difficult to find comparable decent, safe and sanitary replacement housing, the FTA will consider approving increasing the amount of assistance under what is known as the Last Resort Housing Program.”

Battling his way through Commissioner Tsen’s insistence that he stop at the bell, Kline cited controlling case law. In “Garcia v. Anthony, 1989, the Court held that all lawful residents who are displaced by a government project are entitled to last resort housing under California Government Code Section 7264.5 regardless of whether they are post-acquisition tenants or not.”

A whole lot of shaking going on

Then, Kline delivered a bombshell. UC Berkeley seismologists had issued an April 2, 2015, press release announcing its new earthquake study proving definitively that the Hayward Fault is a branch of the Calaveras Fault. If both ruptured together, the result could be a significantly more destructive earthquake than previously anticipated.

Kline cited the Navy’s analysis following the 1989 Loma Prieta quake which reported that the 300 foot band of stiff clay below the artificially created landform of silt poured over mud was the layer most vulnerable to tremblers. 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. According to the Navy report, “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.”

He said he read Lennar’s 300-plus pages of geotechnical improvements and wondered how the build-out would handle a more powerful 7.3 quake.

The interruption landslide that followed buried Kline’s words.

Lennar Urban Manager Julian Pancoast – Photo: Carol Harvey
Lennar Urban Manager Julian Pancoast – Photo: Carol Harvey

Julian Pancoast, Lennar Urban’s development manager, broke into Kline’s statement, insisting Lennar is designing for higher magnitude quakes than San Francisco has ever seen. “I’ll let you read … a number of geotechnical reports – recent reports that are appendices to the Major Phase Application” that apparently say Lennar’s plans cover the most powerful earthquakes possible. It is doubtful these appendices, if they were uploaded on the website, escaped Kline’s attention.

“I’m not sure how they can come away saying that this is going to be the safest earthquake-proof place in the United States. I’m not getting it,” Kline said.

Kline insisted, “What I’m referring to was only maybe in the news only a week ago now about the connection between the Calaveras and the Hayward fault. This is new information.”

Pancoast’s “Yeah, yeah, yeahs” rendered Kline inaudible.

“The designed earthquake incident that we are designing for – I’m not a geotechnical engineer – but it’s much greater than anything that we have. I’ll let you read the reports so you can know the level of earthquake that …”

Asked Kline, “Higher than the 1906 quake?”

Though Pancoast intended the opposite, his halting phrases seemed to betray that the earthquake will be much “higher” than anything Lennar Urban has designed for.

Why don’t you follow the law?

At this TIDA board meeting, Kline spoke twice, once on earthquake liquefaction, once on the denial to islanders of displaced persons’ rights mandated by both federal and state law. He was puzzled. “I don’t know why TIDA isn’t following the law.”

Commissioner Richardson reacted to Kline’s statements as if backed into a corner from which she emerged fighting. Instead of welcoming Kline’s disclosures or opening his documented legal citations for public debate, her tone became scolding and imperious. She hijacked the meeting, delivering a diatribe that blocked further discussion.

A Yerba Buena resident confronted her: “The feedback that you give is basically shutting down. It doesn’t open up a conversation. There’s never been a two-way dialogue between the residents – well (he scanned the room, including Treasure Island tenants in his glance), on YBI and this board.

“You don’t take our concerns into consideration.”

Carol Harvey is a San Francisco political journalist specializing in human rights and civil rights. She can be reached at carolharvey1111@gmail.com.

Please go to Part Three.

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  1. It would be handy if we have a "Print Friendly" option for those of us want to delve deeper into an article and mark it up on paper (or in PDF)

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