Question of intent

As lawsuits and regulators probe Lennar Corp.'s negligent approach to development on Hunters Point, a new campaign seeks to give the embattled corporation even more control over SF

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, former mayor Willie Brown, Sup. Sophie Maxwell, and Mayor Gavin Newsom in recent weeks have come out in support of a proposed ballot measure that would allow Lennar Corp. to develop thousands of new homes at Candlestick Point, create 350 acres of parks, and possibly build a new 49ers stadium at Hunters Point Shipyard.

The campaign for the Bayview Jobs, Parks and Housing Initiative just launched its signature drive, but the measure should qualify relatively easily for the June 2008 election, given new low signature thresholds and the campaign's powerful backers.

The measure would give Lennar, which is also involved in Treasure Island and much of the Bayview–Hunters Point redevelopment area, even more control over San Francisco's biggest chunks of developable land.

But should San Franciscans really reward Lennar with more land and responsibilities when the financially troubled Florida developer has a track record in San Francisco and elsewhere of failing to live up to its promises, exposing vulnerable citizens to asbestos dust, and using deceptive public relations campaigns to gloss over its misdeeds?

As the Guardian has been reporting since early this year (see "The Corporation That Ate San Francisco," 3/14/07), Lennar failed to monitor and control the dust from naturally occurring asbestos while grading a hilltop in preparation for building condominiums on Parcel A of the former Hunters Point Naval Shipyard.

Last month the Bay Area Air Quality Management District's Board of Directors asked staff to pursue the maximum fines possible for Lennar's violations, which could run into millions of dollars, particularly if they are found to be the result of willful or negligent behavior.

"It's clear to everyone in the agency that this case needs to be handled well," BAAQMD spokesperson Karen Schkolnick told the Guardian. "It's in everyone's interest, certainly the community's, to get resolution."

The air district gives parties to whom it issues a warning three years to settle the matter before it goes to court. Lennar officials have publicly blamed subcontractors for failing to control dust and leaving air-monitoring equipment with dead batteries for months on end, but the BAAQMD is treating Lennar as the responsible party.

"It's air district policy to deal with the primary contractor, which in this case is Lennar, although additional parties may be held liable," Schkolnick said.

Accusations of willful negligence also lie at the heart of a Proposition 65 lawsuit that was filed against Lennar for alleged failures to warn the community of exposure to asbestos, a known carcinogen (see Green City, 8/29/07).

Filed by the Center for Self Improvement, the nonprofit that runs the Muhammad University of Islam, which is next to Parcel A, the suit alleges that the construction activities of Lennar and subcontractor Gordon N. Ball "caused thousands of Californians to be involuntarily and unwittingly exposed to asbestos on a daily basis without the defendants first providing the adjacent community and persons working at the site with the toxic health hazard warnings."

Now fresh evidence from another whistle-blower lawsuit filed by three Lennar employees (see "Dust Still Settling," 3/28/07) shows that higher-ups within Lennar reprimanded and reassigned a subordinate who told subcontractors to comply with mandated plans or face an immediate suspension of construction activities at the Parcel A site.

In an April 21, 2006, BlackBerry message that was copied to Lennar Urban senior vice president Paul Menaker and other top Lennar executives, Lennar Urban's regional vice president Kofi Bonner wrote to Gary McIntyre, Lennar/BVHP's Hunters Point Shipyard Project manager, "Gary why do you insist on sending threatening emails to the contractor.