The Treasure Island neighborhood’s history spans back 81 years. In 1939, San Francisco built this 404-acre artificial landform for the Golden Gate International Exhibition. In 1941, the Navy took it for a military base, and in 1999-2000, when it was decommissioned, San Franciscans – mostly people of color at risk of homelessness – moved in.
Twenty years ago, the city of San Francisco moved thousands of its homeless and low-income residents into former military housing on Treasure Island, a small artificial land mass whose 55 years as a Navy base left it covered in toxic radiation. Today, construction on the island has it on track to becoming a bustling, upscale extension of the city. The problem is, some of those residents from 20 years ago are still there. So are thousands of others who have moved in since. So is the radiation.
As a shockwave of disclosures expands the Hunters Point scandal, more startling historical and scientific facts were revealed by Daniel Hirsch, former University of California Santa Cruz Program on Environmental and Nuclear Policy director on Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018. A clutch of powerful federal, state and local politicians has been involved for decades in the remediation and redevelopment of Superfund sites Hunters Point and Treasure Island.
At the March 2018 Treasure Island Restoration Advisory Board meeting, remediation project manager Dave Clark “recollected” that, between 2006 and 2016, the Navy unearthed 1,280 radiological objects, one for every two residents. By contrast, on Sept. 13, San Francisco Chronicle reporters announced the “startling” discovery at Hunters Point of a single “radium deck marker about the size of a silver dollar” near condos on 75-acre Parcel A, which was transferred to the city in 2004 – startling because “contamination ... was cleaned up years ago.”
At 11:00 a.m. Monday, April 16, 2018, community organizer Steve Zeltzer introduced former Treasure Island residents Andre Patterson and Felita Sample, who had been invited to speak at this press conference where whistle-blowers exposed the malfeasance of remediation contractor Tetra Tech on Hunters Point and Treasure Island. “I want to introduce two people today who’ve been personally affected by the corruption and the coverup at Treasure Island."
After 18 years subjecting San Franciscans who were homeless, poor and mostly of color to massive toxic hazards and environmental racism on radiation and chemically contaminated Treasure Island, the Treasure Island Development Authority (TIDA)’s redevelopment consortium – Five Point, Stockbridge Capital Group, Lennar, Wilson-Meany, John Stewart Co. and other financial interests – seem to be attempting to induce tenants to leave the island while forestalling possible legal roadblocks.
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.
Four brave Treasure Islanders who've spoken out about the radiation and other toxins sickening residents have learned they face swift retaliation engineered by the powers-that-be. Mitchell Herrington lived on Treasure Island from 1999 to 2013, when he was harassed off the island by eviction. During his tenancy, Mitchell lived with a roommate who worked for Shaw Environmental. The fact that this Shaw employee had to be protected by a hooded hazmat suit suggested the serious danger of contamination present in his cleanup zone work.
A “space mountain,” “a behemoth,” “a colossus,” “a palace for Jabba The Hut” and “a half-baked baked Alaska” – that’s how columnists have described George Lucas’ $400 million 300,000-square-foot Museum of Narrative Art, a collection of Americana and Hollywood memorabilia. On May 16, 2016, San Francisco Supervisor, Aaron Peskin, appeared on CBS Bay Area talk show “Matier in the Morning,” where he reintroduced Treasure Island as a site for the project.
Lennar’s track record in Bayview Hunters Point and on Yerba Buena Island clearly demonstrates a pattern of offering assurances they will provide poor, Black and Brown people affordable housing, then finding ways to renege on their promises and kicking them out. Join the protest by residents of Bayview Hunters Point, the Mission and Treasure Island at Lennar’s sales office at 645 Howard St., between Second and Third in downtown San Francisco on Thursday, Jan. 28, at noon, for a rally and a quick march to US EPA headquarters.
Since 2000, when the family moved to the island, everyone has been plagued by mild to severe respiratory and gastrointestinal problems that they believe are caused by island pollution. These illnesses, however, have given Child Protective Services a pretext for repeatedly taking Liz’ children and placing them in foster care, accusing this devoted mother of dereliction in her child-rearing.
On May 29, 2015, on the Golden Gate Bridge side of Treasure Island, smelly brown chocolate ooze began to gush from the Lundgren family’s 1201-B Bayside Drive faucets. The other side of the island had just trembled. Between the Job Corps grounds and the San Francisco Bay Bridge, Lennar Corp. engineers had penetrated 50 feet of soil with huge vibrating bores.
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 they feel unheard and their issues ignored, presented their concerns.
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. Where will the Treasure Island Development Authority get redevelopment funding?
Is the Treasure Island Development Authority (TIDA) board hearing San Franciscans’ concerns about radiation and chemical contamination, earthquake liquefaction risks and displaced persons’ relocation rights? Actually, no! Employing blocking techniques that capitalize on the fear of speaking in public, the formidable TIDA board is plowing ahead with Redevelopment, insisting on – while resisting – public input.
Common wisdom holds that Island authorities have simply abandoned the buildings and infrastructure to crumble until they are razed during the redevelopment build-out phase, which will not start until 2015 and could last over a decade. In the process, they seem also to have abandoned the low-income people they enticed to the island, who are providing rent and securing the infrastructure until the island can be rebuilt for rich condo owners.
“I’m trapped and it sucks. Our lives are in danger. I must get out of here but can’t afford it. We are guinea pigs in a big radiological experiment. I know how the Alcatraz prisoners felt hearing the City’s sounds and laughter, but unable to be there. (Island management) is so slick at promoting life on the island, covering up the Navy’s mess and shushing us.”
After working vigilantly to protect her kids from asbestos by moving out of an asbestos-filled home in Bayview Hunters Point onto Treasure Island, Sandy Agee found she had literally jumped from the frying pan into the fire. At this writing, Sandy and two of her children are exhibiting worrisome physical symptoms they developed only after moving to the island. Sandy’s blood tests came back positive for “thyroid problems.”
Whistleblowers at the Hunters Point Shipyard told a reporter, “I wouldn’t feel comfortable living there having a yard where I could grow a garden. Absolutely not." “I wouldn’t go there, I wouldn’t take my grandchildren there, I wouldn’t walk my dog there.” A Treasure Island whistleblower said, “My job is to protect people and the environment, and it’s just not getting done.”
Like all residents on Treasure Island, a man-made landform drenched in water, heat and humidity, wherever Damian Ochoa moves in John Stewart's market rate “Villages,” mold spores float stealthily in the air behind him. Three years ago these spores “mushroomed” into spotty patches in his immaculate home. But Damian is winning. He shows ways that renters can get what they want from a realtor or manager.
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