No one was really surprised when the Redevelopment Commission voted 4-0 not to renew Arc Ecology’s contract to provide environmental information services regarding remediation plans at Hunters Point Shipyard and award it to Circle Point.
Sad and disgusted, yes. But surprised, no. That’s because everyone expected that Commissioners Leroy King, Darshan Singh, Rick Swig and Francee Covington, who are all appointees of Mayor Gavin Newsom, would throw Arc under the bus as payback for Arc’s decision to comment on the EIR for Lennar’s Candlestick Point/shipyard redevelopment plan and oppose the giving away of state parklands so Lennar could build luxury condos.
“The message was that we shouldn’t have commented ” Arc’s executive director Saul Bloom told the Guardian after the Commission vote went down. “But this you’re-either-on-our-side-or-out-of-a- contract attitude is completely bogus. It’s tactics that Republicans use against Democrats.”
And with the exception of Al Norman (who had the bad manners to burst out laughing when Arc got voted out) and Circle Point staffers, who obviously wanted the contract, those who attended the Commission's September 21 meeting agreed that the outcome symbolized everything that’s wrong with Redevelopment’s current model of governance, in which political appointees, not elected officials, make decisions that majorly impact the city's land use.
Thor Kaslofsky, Redevelopment's shipyard project manager, kicked off the Commission's contract discussions by explaining why Redevelopment Agency staff were recommending that the Commission award the contract to Arc Ecology.
As Kaslofsky explained, Circle Point received 0.2 points more than Arc from the Agency’s scoring panel, “making it difficult for the panel to determine who is the most qualified.”
Kaslofsky noted that there had been “concerns about Arc Ecology’s multiple roles in the community.”
This was a reference to the fact that, besides, providing independent assessments on the Navy’s clean-up plans, Arc produced “Alternatives For Study,” a report that studied alternatives to a plan that Lennar and the city refused to change--a public-private stubbornness that most recently resulted in a lawsuit from the Sierra Club and the Golden Gate Audubon Society.
“But the panel voted for Arc as the most qualified firm,” Kaslofsky concluded, noting that there were “concerns about Circle Point’s ability to ramp up”—a reference to the fact that though Circle Point has offices in Sacramento and downtown San Francisco, it doesn’t have a presence in the Bayview and little-to-no experience of the military base clean-up process.
Bloom then talked about how Arc has been active in the Bayview for decades.
“We’ve been in the Bayview for 25 years,” Bloom told the Commission. “We’ve read every environmental document that’s been produced. And our office is on Third Street,”
Bloom noted that after Arc scored the highest for Redevelopment's environmental services contract in 2009, the Agency withdrew its request for proposals (RFP) leaving the community without Arc’s services—and without the services of the Navy’s community-based Restoration Advisory Board—at a time when the Navy was pushing clean-up plans that favor capping the shipyard’s heavily polluted Parcel E-2, rather than digging and hauling out the contamination.
As Bloom noted, the Agency’s contract RFP switcheroo, “caused significant costs to the community because we were unable to provide services at the same time the Navy’s RAB was closed down.”
After Bloom spoke, a stream of Bayview advocates testified in support of Arc.
“Arc is more knowledgeable about clean-up issues than most government regulators,” said Scott Madison, a member of the shipyard’s citizen advisory committee.
“The community asked for—and you granted—an independent contractor, a watch dog, not a lap dog,” Madison continued. “Circle Point may be technically qualified, but they are strangers to the Bayview. The Commission should have the courage to hire a watchdog, even at the risk of a nip at the heels.”
Michael Lynes, conservation director with the Golden Gate Audubon Society, which recently joined the Sierra Club in suing to block the city’s EIR on Lennar’s Candlestick/ shipyard plans, told the Commission that he found “the value provided by Arc to be absolutely essential.”
D10 candidate Eric Smith, a member of the Navy’s now defunct RAB, praised Arc for, “being fantastic in sharing the information.”
“There is no other organization that has their history, has done the work they’ve done, and has the relationship with the community,” Smith said, "With the loss of the RAB, Arc was the only place to go.”
Jackie Phillips of ACCE (Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment) noted that how a lot of organizations come to the Bayview, but unlike Arc, few stay the course.
“I’ve gone to their workshops,” Phillips said. “They sat us down, they’ve taken us on tours, they’ve taken us to the toxic sites, they have shown us what these changes will mean.”
Phillips also expounded on the difficulty of winning the trust of the Bayview community.
“In the Bayview, we don’t know who to trust, because there have been a lot of broken promises,” Phillips said. “Arc did not try to hide things from us. They have a relationship with the community.”
Next up was Claude Eberhart, who said ordinarily he’d be happy to see Circle Point get the contract, because he likes their staff.
“But by rights, I can’t recommend that,” Eberhart said. “The issue is trust.”
Noting that he has worked with Arc since 1987 when he and Bloom fought plans to homeport the USS Missouri at the shipyard, Eberhart said that in terms of getting “clear, concise and correct information,” Arc is “one environmental organization we can rely on.”
Eberhart also noted that last year, when there was pressure to take a large chunk out of the Candlestick Point State Recreation Area so that the city/Lennar could build luxury condos on state parklands, “Arc stepped forward and provided the information we needed to achieve a community consensus and have the Sierra Club come up with the final deal that allowed for an exchange [of state parklands].”
John Eller, an organizer with ACCE, which co-signed the community benefits agreement that the Labor Council negotiated with Lennar to secure living wages and higher levels of affordable housing, noted that Commission President Rick Swig had spoken earlier in the meeting about how Cohen, Newsom’s former economic advisor, was a consensus builder.
“And that’s exactly what Arc has done over the years,” Eller said.
Kate Kelley, director of the Sierra Club’s San Francisco Bay Chapter, praised Arc’s integrity.
“The information it provided was balanced, responsive and certainly technically competent,” she said.
“This is not a baseball game,” Kelley continued, referring to Circle Point’s understandable claim that it rightfully won the contract based on the Agency’s scoring process. “This is about relationships and trust—and I trust Arc Ecology to do the right thing.”
Al Norman, who heads the Bayview Merchants Association, was the sole dissenter among Bayview residents who spoke at the meeting.
Norman claimed that Arc’s critique of the city’s EIR was somehow “a conflict of interest.”
But instead of providing evidence to support his claims, Norman launched into a personal attack.
“[Bloom] went against this agency and the community, concerning his alternative plan, when we already had a plan in place,” Norman said. “I think Circle Point deserves a chance.”
The son of the late Jesse Mason, who worked for Arc until he died this summer, spoke in support of Arc and Bloom.
“My father believed in Arc, he trusted Arc,” Mason said.
And Christine Johnson, secretary of the shipyard’s Citizen Advisory Committee, spoke of the pressing need in the Bayview for independent review of technical environmental documents.
“We feel it’s imperative to get immediate advice and expert opinion and to properly assimilate information,” Johnson said, referring to the Navy’s shipyard clean-up plans.
‘We’ve been without that advice for nearly a year.”
Terry Ander, whose organization is a member of the Southeast Jobs Coalition, which includes Brightline, Inner City Youth, Visitacion Valley Community Development Coalition and Young Community Developers, spoke highly of Arc.
“Arc Ecology deserves this contract,” Anders said, noting that the Bayview community has been part of “enough neglect and B.S. to last for ten life times.”
And D10 candidate Kristine Enea, a former member of the Navy's RaB, urged the Commission to "support Arc and focus on the community’s need for information.”
Bayview community advocate Espanola Jackson stressed the need for accurate information from a trusted source, as opposed to politically comfortable lip service.
“We need the correct information and not the lies and the politics that have been played upon my community,” Jackson said.
After 17 folks spoke in favor of Arc, many of them registering surprise that there was talk of taking the contract away from a small Bayview-based non-profit, Bloom sought to correct any misinformation that had been spread about his organization.
Noting that Arc’s Alternative for Studies “was an attempt to do some problem solving,” Bloom observed how, “Instead, we got painted as an opponent to a bridge. We are a strong supporter of the development and we have put 300 people to work in the Bayview.”
But all this support and clarification was not enough to save Arc from being thrown under the bus.
Commissioners Leroy King, Francee Covington and Darshan Singh joined Commission President Rick Swig in calling for Arc’s ouster. And along the way, they variously accused Bloom of disloyalty, dishonesty and expectations of winning the contract. (The latter accusation was a tad ironic given that there are currently no term limits for Redevelopment commissioners, as evidenced by King who has sat on the commission for decades and has just been renominated by Mayor Gavin Newsom to serve yet another term.)
“I’m opposed to giving the contract to Arc,” Commissioner King said. “Each time, [Bloom] spoke opposed to Redevelopment,” King continued, without proffering any details to support his claims, but giving a disturbing insight into how he thinks organizations that contract with Redevelopment for $282,000 a year (the amount Circle Point will be paid for four years for the environmental services contract) should position themselves on all Agency-related issues.
“[Lennar’s] Kofi Bonner called me and said. ‘Will you chance your vote? We need him’” King said, acknowledging that he didn’t want to award the contract to Arc, when it first applied, four years ago. “But every time [Bloom] was opposed to basic things to fill that shipyard. He talks against Lennar.”
Commissioner Covington confused the audience by pulling out a copy of the city’s response to comments on its EIR for Lennar’s redevelopment plans, even though the Redevelopment contract in question concerns assessing the environmental issues related to the Navy’s shipyard clean-up plans.
Covington then pointed to, but did not identify, letters that she claimed were from individuals who alleged their names were falsely included in a letter supporting Arc’s EIR comments.
Covington then told the audience that the Agency’s 50 percent small business enterprise standard in contract awards “ is a goal but does not apply to non-profits”.
And Commission President Swig, a hotel and tourism industry consultant, sought to frame Arc, which is respected as an independent non-profit, as an ungrateful consultant.
“As a consultant myself, I don’t agree with all my customers, but I don’t bite the hand that feeds me,” Swig said.
And then the Commission voted 4-0 to reject Arc—and award the contract to Circle Point.
Outside the meeting, a black mood reigned.
“It was political payback,” Scott Madison said. “I think the Commission made a bad choice.”
Mike McGowan. Arc’s senior scientist, noted that public support was 17-3 in favor of Arc.
“But I guess only four votes counted,” he observed. “It seemed that Redevelopment’s staff was in favor of Arc, as was the community except for a few voices, but the Commission kept harping on incidental issues. The truth is that there are no holes in our qualifications.”
McGowan noted that the environmental services contract relates primarily to Navy clean-up.
“Arc never got in the way of the development,” McGowan said. “What it did was participate more fully in the EIR process, and, as I understand, Lennar incorporated some of Arc’s suggestions into their design. But by Arc not having its contract for the last 18 months, a lot of misinformation floated to the top.”
McGowan noted that the spirit of the Agency’s policy on small business enterprises is to foster the development of small firms that are disadvantaged and local.
“And Arc definitely is smaller, less advantaged and based in the Bayview, but it seemed like a lot of personal animosity came up,” he said.
Bloom acknowledged that the loss of this contract is a serious economic blow for Arc.
“They screwed a local small non-profit in the face of a multi-million dollar organization that swathed itself in a couple of small Bayview businesses,” Bloom continued, referring to Circle Point’s inclusion of three local SBEs as sub-contractors in its contract proposal.
Others, speaking off the record for fear of political reprisal, told the Guardian that the Commission’s treatment of Arc—and its refusal to listen to community members and community-based organizations that represent many thousands of local residents—calls into question the need for Redevelopment to exist in its present configuration, if the Commission believes its priority is to fire contractors that disagree with its plans in other arenas.
“The Board can eliminate the Redevelopment Agency and/or change its governance,” a Bayview resident said. “The Bayview is the last frontier of the eastern side of San Francisco. It’s a historically neglected neighborhood that many folks in City Hall now see as the next potential gold mine.”