Political litmus test for Hunters Point Shipyard access?

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Even though the U.S. Navy abandoned the Hunters Point Shipyard in 1974, the military has continued to control access to the shipyard that helped launch the A-Bomb. That’s because the Navy still owns most parcels of land on the shipyard and remains on the hook for cleaning up pollutants on these sites, including a radiologically impacted dump on Parcel E2, which has been deemed to be the dirtiest land on the site.

Currently, the Navy is proposing to cap, not excavate this landfill, despite repeated requests from the local community, and a citywide vote in support of Proposition P in 2000, which urged the Navy to clean up the land to the best extent possible, which would mean excavating the Parcel E2 landfill and replacing it with clean uncontaminated soil. And oddly, the City appears to want government agencies and officials to sign off on its final EIR for Lennar's massive 770-acre redevelopment plan for the shipyard and Candlestick Point, even though the Navy has not yet completed an environmental impact statement (EIS) related to its proposed shipyard cleanup activities.

Currently, the Navy controls access to the facility beyond a couple of trailers that the city’s Redevelopment Agency has set up just within the yard’s main gate. And to gain access to the shipyard these days, you need to call or visit Redevelopment’s trailer and get a pass. Or, alternatively, if you know any of the artists who continue to rent studios at shipyard, you can call them to try and get the city to give you a pass.

Underlying these limits to accessing the shipyard are some legitimate safety concerns related to equipment and excavations on what is now an active clean up and construction site, along with fears that untoward characters could break into the abandoned buildings or bother the artists who still have studios in operation at the shipyard. But has an additional political litmus test been put in place when it comes to critics of Lennar’s redevelopment plan, who want to access to the yard? If so, does it mirror the tap dancing that the local community has had to undergo to get its voices heard as Lennar pushes to get final approval for its shipyard/ Candlestick Point redevelopment plan.

Those questions resurfaced last week when a private security guard manning the shipyard’s front gate denied access to D. 10 supervisor candidate DeWitt Lacy, who had dropped by hoping to take this reporter around the yard as part of an ongoing conversation about Parcel E2, which Lacy believes needs to be excavated completely, and how best to hold the Navy accountable for cleaning up a mess it created decades ago. The security guard told Lacy that folks who want to visit must get a pass at the Redevelopment Agency trailer.

At the Redevelopment trailer, Micah Fobbs, administrative assistant for W.B. Kennedy and Associates, which has a contract with Redevelopment’s Citizen’s Advisory Committee. told Lacy that without a preauthorized pass, he couldn’t let us onto the site. Fobbs added that he would be happy to take us on a tour himself, but he could not leave the trailer unmanned, since he was the only staff member there at the time. Fair enough. Though the rebuff gave us the feel that the City doesn’t want pesky investigative reporters that have been critical of the development running around the site. “And if they found out I was a civil rights attorney, they probably wouldn’t want me out here, either,” Lacy joked.

But the next day, I encountered what sounded like overt hostility to other critics of Lennar’s plan, when I tried to ride along on what had been billed as a “Toxic Tour of the Navy Shipyard” by POWER (People Organizing to Win Employment Rights). POWER had advertised its tour in an email which said it would involve 23 expert urban planners, who happened to be in the Bay Area for a Progressive Planning Forum. The tour was billed as happening on the morning of June 17, before an afternoon discussion at POWER’s Third Street office in the Bayview, which was to focus “on alternative approaches to the city’s current plan for development at the Shipyard/ Candlestick Point.”

Caught in traffic, I didn’t arrive at the Boys and Girls Club on Kiska Road in Bayview Hunters Point in time to join POWER’s kick-off get together. So, I headed direct to the shipyard, a move that meant I arrived alone and ahead of the school bus that POWER had rented for the occasion. At the gate, I was told by the security guard that I couldn’t get in, that another guard lost his job for letting unauthorized individuals onto the site, that POWER didn’t have a pass and that they’d been warned to watch for POWER “because they want to stop the development.”

“If you are not authorized with badges, you are not let through,” the guard said, giving me the telephone number of the Hunters Point Duty police officer, who in turn said I needed to call the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, which in turn told me to call the folks at the Redevelopment Agency’s shipyard trailer. And so I called Fobbs again, who confirmed that the Navy still controls all the property, except Parcel A which has already been conveyed to the City which in turn has granted developer Lennar the right to develop thousands of condos on that particular parcel.

“As far as viewing the rest of the property, you have to put in a request, and no photography or videography is allowed,” Fobbs said. This stated ban on photography came as a surprise, given recent photos of the shipyard that ran in a New York Times article about Lennar and the city’s vision for the 770-acre property.

And the sudden difficulties in gaining media access seemed odd, given that Lennar’s PR firm, Sitrick and Company, offered to take the media on a tour on the morning of June 3—the day the Redevelopment and Planning Commissions subsequently approved the final EIR for Lennar’s plan to redevelop the rest of the shipyard, plus Candlestick Point, a FEIR that has now been appealed to the Board, on the grounds that it was rushed for political reasons, leading to fatal flaws in the final document.

“Well, if folks come here through Redevelopment or the Mayor’s Office, then they have been able to take photographs,” Fobbs said. “But we have had people trying to climb fences and get through doors of some of the buildings.” (Fobbs last comment was a reference to a recent climbing of the fence that the Nation of Islam’s Leon Muhammad engaged in, in an effort to determine if air quality monitoring devices near the Nation’s school and Oakdale public housing site were operating. (After Muhammad scaled the fence and reported that he’d found an empty bin where monitoring equipment was supposed to be, a kafuffle ensued, with the US EPA saying Muhammad was looking in the wrong place for the monitors which, it claimed, were in operation.)

Ultimately, Fobbs told me to call Redevelopment’s Audrey Kay if I wanted a tour, and several shipyard artists told me they would be happy to arrange a day pass so I can visit their studios and hear concerns that they will be required to move from a couple of shipyard buildings before replacement studios have been completed--an arrangement that would amount to a breach of promise that Lennar and the city previously made to the shipyard artists.

Shortly after I was turned away for a second time, POWER’s bus arrived at the gate, only to be blocked--a denial of access that meant 23 progressive planners were forced to view the shipyard from various remote viewing spots atop the hills that surround the site.

Together these episodes left me wondering what kind of political litmus test could end up being enforced at the site, if Lennar’s mega project gets the green light this summer, and what will happen if the Board decides to kick the plan back to the drawing board until the Navy completes a environmental impact statement and all of the community’s ongoing environmental and economic justice concerns are addressed.

So stay tuned, and don’t forget to mark July 13 on your calendar when the full Board of Supervisors is tentatively to hear appeals of the project’s final EIR, which the Planning and Redevelopment Commissions rubberstamped June 3. And, as always, it will be revealing to see which candidates in the hotly contested race for D. 10 supervisor, show up and speak truth to power.