The corporation that ate San Francisco - Page 6

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
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Bay Area Air Quality Management District records show officials didn't know monitoring equipment at the site wasn't working until August 2006, when Lennar discovered and reported the problem.

Lee reported after an Aug. 31, 2006, meeting with CH2M Hill staff, "They were not confident that the air sampling equipment was sampling correctly, due to faulty records and suspect batteries. CH2M Hill staff discovered depleted batteries and could not determine when they drained."

The air district's air quality program manager, Janet Glasgow, told the Guardian, "The district had never been in this situation before, in which a developer, Lennar, came in and self-reported that they discovered a problem with their monitoring — something the district would never have been able to determine."

Worrisome as Glasgow's statement is, there's also the possibility that CH2M Hill's failures might never have come to light had it not been for the city's decision to demand another layer of dust controls. As Department of Public Health engineer Amy Brownell said, her inspectors were witnessing trails of dust firsthand, yet CH2M Hill's monitors kept registering "non-detect" around asbestos.

"Which was suspicious," Brownell told us, "since they were doing massive earthwork."

Saul Bloom, who is executive director for Arc Ecology, a local nonprofit that helps communities plan for base closures and cleanups, told us he recalls "waiting for the first shoe to drop, wondering how there could be no work stoppages when Lennar was digging up a hillside of serpentinite."

The other shoe did drop shortly after the August 2006 meeting. It was black and well polished and attached to the foot of Muhammed, who began questioning whether the dust wasn't harming his students.

But Muhammed found his questions weren't easy to answer, given that Lennar had failed to monitor itself and therefore lacked the data that could have proved no harm was done, a scary situation since health problems from asbestos exposure don't generally manifest themselves until many years later.

Those questions raised others about Lennar and whether it should be trusted to self-regulate.

DÉJÀ VU

In December 2006, Redevelopment Agency Commissioner Francee Covington asked Lennar's environmental manager, Sheila Roebuck, if the company had any asbestos issues at other projects in the nation. Roebuck replied no, not to her knowledge.

But the Guardian has learned that Lennar already had problems with naturally occurring asbestos in El Dorado. The problems concerned dynamiting in hills that were full of naturally occurring asbestos and resulted in a $350,000 settlement in November 2006. The case involved two El Dorado Hills developers, Angelo K. Tsakopoulos and Larry Gualco, and their earthmoving subcontractor, DeSilva Gates Construction of Dublin.

As part of the terms of the settlement, the county agreed, at the behest of the developers, to make their earthmoving contractor, DeSilva Gates, who provided the dynamite, solely responsible for the settlement. Accused of, but not formally charged with, 47 violations of air- and water-pollution laws is West Valley, a limited liability company composed of Lennar Communities of Roseville, Gualco, and Tsakopoulos's AKT Investments of Sacramento, with Lennar managing the LLC and AKT acting as the investor.

But as the Sacramento Bee's Chris Bowman reported, El Dorado Air Quality Management District head Marcella McTaggart expressed her displeasure directly to Lennar Communities, writing, "We are very disappointed to note that the agreed-upon measures to minimize ...