Board votes on Candlestick-Shipyard project EIR appeal today

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All images by Luke Thomas

The Chronicle’s suggestion that the city’s massive Candlestick-shipyard project may be facing smoother sailing seems like wishful thinking to those who attended a July 12 noontime rally that was organized by POWER (People Organized to Win Employment Rights) and featured two Louisiana-based advocates who protested the project’s EIR and shared many of the longstanding concerns about project cleanup, infrastructure and financing.

The Chronicle was of course referring to five amendments to the city’s massive redevelopment proposal that Board President David Chiu introduced during yesterday’s July 12 meeting of the Board’s Land Use committee. The Chron interpreted these amendments as a sign that Chiu plans to approve the project's environmental impact report, which comes before the Board today, after several groups appealed the final EIR that the Planning Commission approved last month.

But while city officials fear the developer will walk, if the Board does not approve the final EIR, some environmental advocates hope a better plan could be reached.

At POWER's July 12 rally, nationally acclaimed environmental scientist Wilma Subra called on the District Attorney’s environmental justice department to "step up." Subra claimed that the project’s final EIR “failed to evaluate and assess the cumulative impacts of exposure to children, adults and the environment as a result of exposure to all of the chemicals at the site.”

Monique Harden, co-director and attorney for Advocates for Environmental Health Rights (AEHR) of New Orleans, Louisiana, pointed to “deep flaws in the environmental regulation system," as a reason why low-income communities of color should be concerned about the proposed plan.
“Why in the middle of an environmental crisis caused by BP in the Gulf am I coming to San Francisco?" Harden asked. "Because San Francisco is providing unequal environmental protection to its residents. As a resident of New Orleans, I'm concerned that San Francisco is careening towards making a decision that can crush the future of Bayview Hunters Point,"

But as local Bayview resident Jose Luis Pavon began talking about seeing gentrification occur in his lifetime within San Francisco, he and others got shouted down by a group of yellow and green-shirted project supporters, who were led by a guy calling himself Bradley Bradley and Alice Griffith public housing resident Stormy Henry.
“This is the devil’s trick in the last hour,” Henry said of the POWER rally.

Henry shared her heartfelt belief that if the Board approves the project's final EIR, she and other Alice Griffith residents will get desperately needed new housing units. even if it takes some years to build them. Others in her group were unable to answer media questions: they had difficulty speaking in English, but were clutching neatly written statements in support of the project that they later read aloud at the Board's Land Use Committee hearing.

As these project supporters prepared to move inside to attend the Land Use Committee meeting and lobby supervisors for their suppor, D. 10 candidate Tony Kelly shared his concerns that the Navy has a demonstrated history of finding nasty things at the shipyard years after they say everything’s clean, and that this pattern could jeopardize the plan.

“This happened at Parcel A,” Kelly said, referring to the first and only parcel of land that the Navy transferred to the city for development in 2004. “Since then, Parcel A has gotten smaller and as they found stuff on sites they then renamed as new parcels, like UC-3, which has radiological contamination in a sewer line that goes into the Bayview. So, that means the contamination is now in the Bayview.”

Kelly is concerned that the city is trying push through EIR certification before the Navy completes an environmental impact statement (EIS) related to shipyard cleanup activities. “The EIS is supposed to go before the EIR, as far as I know,” Kelly said

At the Land Use Committee meeting, Sup. Sophie Maxwell, whose district includes Candlestick and the Shipyard,said, the project was about "revitalization and opportunity.”

She noted that the certification of the project’s final EIR has been appealed to full Board’s July 13 meeting. She further noted that she intends to introduce legislation next week to address concerns that Ohlone groups have expressed.

The next two hours were full of testimony from a bevy of city officials, beginning with Michael Cohen, Mayor Gavin Newsom's top economic advisor in the Office of Workforce and Economic Development.

“Every single element [of this project] has been discussed and debated at countless meetings,” Cohen claimed, as he sought to quell fears that the community had not been properly consulted with over the plan. “As we get closer to a vote, all of a sudden pieces of paper start circulating, criticizing project and suggesting that community involvement just began," he continued. " That’s factually untrue.”

He also sought to reassure the supervisors that the Board will have a say-so as to whether the city accepts early transfer of shipyard parcels from the Navy.
"Neither the city nor the developer have any specific authority over the cleanup," Cohen said, noting that the cleanup is governed by specific rules set out in CERCLA [Comprehensice Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, aka Superfund].

"Regardless of what we do, CERCLA will continue to be the regulatory tool," Cohen said. " I urge you not to be confused by CEQA and CERCLA.”

So, how can the city implement Prop. P, which voters overwhelmingly supported in 2000, urging the Navy to clean up the shipyard to highest attainable standards.
“Prior to any transfer, US EPA and DTSR have to concur in writing that the shipyard is safe," Cohen explained, noting that, thanks to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, the Navy has already spent over $700 million on shipyard cleanup efforts.

“We have 250 artists at the shipyard….but not a shred of scientific evidence to say that the shipyard is not safe," Cohen claimed. "It’s safe to develop the shipyard in precisely the manner we are proposing.”

When Sup. Eric Mar raised the question of radiological contamination on Parcel UC-3, Cohen downplayed Mar's concerns.
"The exposure levels are lower than watching TV," Cohen claimed. "The primary source is very low level radiation from glow-in-the-dark dials.”
Indicating a map that showed a network of old sewers (in blue) and old fuel lines (in red) under the entire development area, Cohen said, “The radiological contamination that has and will be addressed at the shipyard is quite low level. You have radiation, you get nervous. We asked EPA to come out and do a scan to deal with the issue.”

IBI Group's David Thom, the lead architect and planner for the project said the plan is designed “to connect new development back into the Bayview.”
“And this plan connects the Bayview through to the water.”

Tiffany Bohee, Cohen’s deputy in the Mayor's Office of Economic and Workforce Development, insisted that project’s proposed bridge is better than Arc Ecology’s proposed alternative route, which would not involve constructing a bridge over an environmentally sensitive slough.
“The non-bridge route increases the number of intersections,” Bohee said, seeking to turn an environmental question (the impact of bridge on wildlife and nature experience) into a public safety issue.”
She claimed the BRT route over bridge was 5-10 minutes faster than Arc’s proposed alternative, “because there are fewer turns, it can go at higher speeds." But Arc's studies suggest the BRT route over the bridge is only a minute faster, and would cost over $100 million.

Bohee noted that $50 million from the sale of 23 acres of parkland for condos at the Candlestick Point State Recreation Area (CPSRA) will be “set aside for the state, and won’t be able to be raided by the city," with $40 million going to improvements, and $10 million to ongoing operation and maintenance costs.

She also cited additional benefits that the project would bring to the community, including thousands of construction job opportunities.

"We are working with City Build to make sure they are for local residents,” Bohee said.“And there is absolutely no displacement for the rebuild,” Bohee continued referring to proposal to place current Alice Griffith public housing iresidents n new units, on a 1-1 basis

Eric Mar said he was impressed by many elements of the plan, but continued to express reservations.
“I’m still concerned that is seems to serve newcomers as proposed to existing residents,” he said. “And I’m still not convinced that the bridge is the best for existing residents."

Rhonda Simmons, who works in Cohen's Office of Economic and Workforce Development,  tried to flesh out details of the project’s job creation promises.
“The most immediate workforce is related to the construction site, and as you know, this project goes over a 15-20 year span,” Simmons said, pointing to green tech and retail as job opportunities that will exist once the project is built.

Mar expressed concern that the jobs may not be at the level of D.10 residents
“How is this gonna bring their skill level up?” he asked.
“The idea is that training gives first level entry at a variety of building trades,” Simmons said, pointing to the project’s large solar component.

“What about women?” Sup. Maxwell asked
Simmons pointed to retail opportunities,
“The idea of the training is to give folks job readiness skills, like getting there and showing up on time,” she said

Mar wanted to know who would have oversight of monitoring and compliance.
“In the city we have a tapestry of folks who do contract compliance," she said. "The oversight will come from a variety of places."

After Kurt Fuchs of the Controller’s Office listed the estimated economic benefits of the project, Board President David Chiu observed that the city is "at a crossroads."

“I do not plan to prejudge,” Chiu continued, as he introduced his five amendments to regulate the Parcel E-2 cleanup, the size of a proposed bridge over the Yosemite Slough, expand healthcare access in the Bayview, create a workforce development fund and lay the groundwork for bringing public power to the project.

During public comment, Bayview resident Fred Naranjo pleaded for project support.  

“Please don’t let the train leave the station,” Naranjo said. "If Lennar leaves, the Bayview will never be developed.”

And Tim Paulson, executive director of the San Francisco Labor Council expressed hope that an agreement was getting closer.
“There really is a path to getting this done,” Paulson said. “This really is a model project in many ways for the rest of the United States.”
But D. 10 resident Linda Shaffer with the Yerba Buena chapter of the California Native Plant society indicated the huge pressure exerted on folks to support the project
“I do not want to be classified as an opponent, but we have concerns," Shaffer said, noting that her group has filed an appeal of the project’s final EIR.

And while the Sierra Club’s Arthur Feinstein thanked Chiu for proposing to reduce the size of the bridge, he pointed out that Chiu's amendment wasn't really a compromise.
“That's because it’s still a bridge,” Feinstein said, as he explained how noisy the area surrounding the slough will become as traffic whizzes by.

Connie Ford of the Labor Council accused some project critics of being “disrespectful.”
Ford took particular issue with claims that the project will gentrify the area
“The neighborhood is changing,” she said. “Since 1990, African American families have been leaving the Bayview in huge numbers. I encourage you to see this project as a good plan.”

Gabe Metcalfe of SPUR expressed his unconditional support for the plan,
“This plan is being asked to fix a huge number of problems,” he said.
Noting that the bridge continues to be a sticking point, Metcalfe said he sees opposition to every transportation project these days.
“We seem to be in a moment when you can’t build anything without it being opposed.”

But other speakers from the Sierra Club reiterated their stance that there are better and viable options to the bridge, noting that it is too costly, and that the surrounding community and wildlife would be better off without it.”

All these competing viewpoints suggest that whatever decision the Board makes today, it will take some time and create plenty of uproar. So, here's hoping the Board votes in a way that will truly benefit the D. 10 community, not career politicians, city officials and out-of-state developers. It's about time.