Death camp Treasure Island

by Carol Harvey

For those who are trapped here, San Francisco’s Treasure island shares similarities with a death camp they can’t escape. Men, women and children are stricken with tumors and cancers from exposure to radiation, chemicals and lead the Navy dumped into island soil during 50 years training sailors for nuclear war, as well as lung disease from asbestos and mold in the walls of military housing.

On June 12, 1987, at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, Ronald Reagan intoned, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” With the Cold War over, in 1988 the Base Realignment and Closure Act (BRAC) began shuttering radioactive and chemically impacted military installations.

Contamination was exposed at decommissioned bases nationwide. On July 16, 2014, Newsweek’s cover featured “Camp Lejeune and the Military’s Polluted Legacy.” Carcinogens in drinking water were suspect for a male breast cancer epidemic. The April 25, 2017, Philadelphia Inquirer announced, “More Than 400 Military Bases Must Be Tested for Water Contamination.” The 1,343 National Priorities Superfund sites list includes San Francisco’s Hunters Point, where the Hiroshima atom bomb, Little Boy, was assembled.

In 1993, the Navy decommissioned Treasure Island, moving sailors’ families out.

The 1994 federal Base Closure Community Redevelopment and Homeless Assistance Act, “A bill to revise and improve the process for disposing of buildings and property at military installations under the base closure laws,” opened national floodgates to environmental racism. With this permission to “solve” San Francisco’s infamous homeless problem, in 1997 the City forced poor and people of color – mostly African-Americans, then Mexicans, then other people of color – from City streets to toxic Treasure Island.

Caution-Hazardous-Waste-Area-Unauthorized-Persons-Keep-Out-sign-on-fence-Treasure-Island-by-Carol-web-300x169, Death camp Treasure Island, Local News & Views
Warning signs proliferate on Treasure Island. No wonder the poor people sentenced to live there are sick. And what about the upscale residents to come? – Photo: Carol Harvey

As available housing stock accrues tax credits enriching landlords in U.S cities, blame for homelessness is redirected at unhoused victims. Homeless people are labeled “inferiors” who must be “fixed” after “inborn deficiencies” put them on the street. Some lose homes through corrupt bank foreclosures, fires and inability to earn the rent working three simultaneous jobs. Some succumb to alcohol and drug abuse.

Unemployable citizens with emotional, physical and mental disabilities – these are the vulnerable people chosen to be “cured” in programs where they are malleable in Treasure Island operatives’ hands.

A 1997-1998 city government report announced, “Three hundred housing units on TI [Treasure Island] are expected to be occupied in October or November of 1998 under an interim housing plan. TIDA has contracted with the John Stewart Company to rehabilitate and manage these units. … This interim plan is intended to preserve the housing stock which deteriorates rapidly with lack of use, and to provide an income stream.”

San Francisco began to use HUD subsidies for maintenance and eventual island redevelopment.

As mayor, veteran of 30 years in the state Assembly and 15 as the all-powerful speaker, Willie Brown used his pull to deprive Treasure Islanders of San Franciscans’ equal rights to rent control, subjecting them to no cause evictions. Additionally, he crafted a consortium of collaborating organizations.

  • The Treasure Island Development Authority Board (TIDA), which serves at the mayor’s pleasure
  • Treasure Island Homeless Development Initiative (TIHDI), an umbrella organization of nonprofits, which provides rehabilitation services for marginalized people
  • The John Stewart Co., California’s largest poverty pimp, which manages HUD-subsidized and market rate housing
  • The Navy arm of the consortium, following federal law, which began radiation and chemical cleanup.

Cartel members knew the land was toxic. Residents were marginally aware.

‘Caution-Radiologically-Controlled-Area’-Treasure-Island-by-Carol-web-300x168, Death camp Treasure Island, Local News & Views
Deadly radiation, which surrounds Treasure Island residents, has undoubtedly contributed to if not caused many deaths and life-threatening illnesses in the last 18 years. Yet the City, which forced many of them to live there to avoid homelessness, takes no responsibility for the decline in residents’ health. Most were healthy when they were moved to Treasure Island. – Photo: Carol Harvey

For 18 years, terror of eviction has gripped islanders. In San Francisco’s out-of-control housing market, with rents averaging over $3.400, anyone could instantly end up back on the street.

As early as 1999, John Stewart management capitalized on intimidation, establishing and maintaining a gestapo-like grip on island residents, developing a community pool of Kapos – snitches who protected their families by ratting on neighbors. Past indiscretions in their files are used against them.

By 2017, 18 years of subsidy money and intimidation have passed. As the cartel prepares the toxic soil for lucrative high-rise condos and hotels, homeless families’ incomes are no longer required. Redevelopment has begun.

With three generations of subsidies in its coffers, John Stewart is quietly launching evictions. Ill from chemical and radiation exposure, their offsprings’ DNA forever transformed, targeted families are, as planned, being returned to City streets.

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