The corporation that ate San Francisco - Page 4

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

Failing to protect children in a community that's been the repeat victim of environmental injustice is a public relations nightmare, particularly in a part of town where distrust of redevelopment runs deep, thanks to the travesties in the Fillmore in the 1960s, followed by the city's recent rejection of a referendum to put the Bayview–Hunters Point Redevelopment Plan to a public vote.

But while Lennar's executives finally did the right thing last August by alerting the air district and replacing CH2M Hill, they didn't release their two other subcontractors, Gordon Ball and Luster, nor did they sufficiently rein them in when violations continued, critics have testified at agency meetings.

And instead of apologizing to the air district and the city's Department of Public Health for making them look like impotent fools, Lennar executives pushed back, contending that asbestos monitoring wasn't necessary until May 2006 and that they didn't need to water the tires of private vehicles.

They even listed economic rationalizations for the screwups that did happen. According to a memo marked "confidential" that the Guardian unearthed in the air district's files, written by the air district's inspector, Wayne Lee, Lennar stated, "It costs approximately $40,000 a day to stop grading and construction activity" and "Gordon Ball would have to idle about 26 employees on site, and employees tend to look for other work when the work is not consistent."

Meanwhile, the Department of Public Health was left reeling. Environmental health director Dr. Rajiv Bhatia told us, "It was very disappointing. We worked very hard. We wanted this system to be health protective. Whenever things don't work, it takes time to get back to levels of trust. This hurts trust and credibility."

In September 2006 the air district issued Lennar a notice of violation for the period of July 14, 2005, through Aug. 3, 2006. Lee wrote that vegetation removal on the site "disturbed the soil and in some cases, likely resulted in dust." He also made it clear that "any track onto common roads could be tracked out to public thoroughfares and create asbestos dust plumes."

Lennar's fines have yet to be determined, but they could reach into millions of dollars. State fines for emitting air contaminants range from $1,000 a day, if the violation wasn't the result of intentional or negligent conduct, to $75,000 a day, if the conduct was deemed willful and intentional.

But as the air district weighs the evidence, one thing's for sure: this wasn't an isolated case of one set of monitors failing or one subcontractor screwing up. This case involves numerous violations and three subcontractors, two of which — Gordon Ball and Luster — are still working next to the MUI (neither company returned our calls).

Records show that once Lennar fired its environmental compliance subcontractor, CH2M Hill, properly installed monitors immediately detected asbestos dust, triggering 15 health-protective shutdowns during the course of the next six months.