The corporation that ate San Francisco - Page 3

Lennar's failures at Hunters Point Shipyard highlight the risk of putting the Bay Area's prime real estate into the hands of profit-driven developers

The Navy is still cleaning up a long list of nasty toxins, including PCBs and solvents, on Parcels B through F, the land Newsom now wants the city to take over so that it can hastily build a stadium for the 49ers.

But the minister's request to relocate the MUI isn't inspired by fear of Navy-related contamination or the impact of a stadium on the neighborhood but rather by the reality that asbestos is naturally present in this hillside and Lennar's excavation work on the other side of the school's chain-link fence has been kicking up dust for almost a year.

It's not that Lennar and the city didn't know about the asbestos. In April 2000 the environmental impact report for the shipyard reuse noted, "Because asbestos-containing serpentinite rock occurs at Hunters Point Shipyard, construction-related excavation activities could cause chrysotile asbestos associated with serpentinite to become airborne, creating a potentially significant impact to public health and safety."

So when Lennar proposed demolishing abandoned housing and roads and grading and transferring massive amounts of earth on Parcel A, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District demanded an asbestos dust mitigation plan that included sweeping and watering the construction sites and making sure that vehicle tires are washed before drivers exit.

The state Asbestos Air Control Toxic Measure also stipulates that if a school lies within a quarter mile of a construction site, local air districts can require developers to install asbestos dust monitors and shut down their sites whenever asbestos registers 16,000 fibers per cubic meter. The state requires these extra steps because children have higher metabolisms, growing lungs, and longer life expectancy. Plus, they're lower to the ground and are likely to run, skip, hop, and play ball games that kick up dust.

Although Lennar agreed to abide by the air district's requirements, the developer failed to properly implement this plan for more than a year.

The air district's records show that Lennar's environmental consultant, CH2M Hill, failed to include any air monitoring in its original plan for Parcel A, which is odd because the school is obvious to anyone who visits the site. It was only when the air district pointed out the existence of the Hunters Point Boys and Girls Club, the Milton Meyer Recreation Center, and the MUI, all within the quarter-mile limit, that Lennar agreed, at least on paper, to what the air district describes as "one of the most stringent asbestos dust mitigation plans in the state."

The plan combines the air district's asbestos requirements with the city's demands that Lennar limit "ordinary dust" that can cause respiratory irritation and aggravate existing respiratory conditions, such as asthma and bronchitis. Lennar agreed to implement the plan in the summer of 2005 and determine background levels of dust and toxins at the site before work began in the spring of 2006.

But that didn't happen. For 13 months there is no data to show how much asbestos the MUI students were exposed to, neither for the 10 months before construction started on the cleared site nor for the first three hot and dusty months when Lennar's subcontractors began massive earth-moving operations next to the school.

You'd think that after these failures became public knowledge, a devastated Lennar would have gotten a black eye and perhaps fired the subcontractors involved.