Behind the Newsom-Lennar-Chronicle offensive on Hunters Point lie serious issues that are hard to ignore
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BayviewHunters Point resident Espanola Jackson says her phone rang off the hook after the San Francisco Chronicle printed her photo but none of her concerns under the headline "Residents Like Plan to Revitalize Area." It was part of the newspaper's extensive coverage of Mayor Gavin Newsom's plan to rebuild the community around a football stadium.
"People called to say, 'You need to sue the Chronicle,' " Jackson told the Guardian. Newsom wants to entrust Florida-based developer Lennar Corp. with cleaning up the five highly contaminated Hunters Point Shipyard parcels. Jackson finds this plan worrisome because, as the Guardian recently revealed ("The Corporation That Ate San Francisco," 3/14/07), Lennar was cited multiple times last year for failing to monitor and control dust and asbestos at Parcel A, the first and only piece of the shipyard that the Navy has released to the city as ready for development. Lennar is also being sued by three employees for allegations of racially charged whistle-blower retaliation in connection with the problems on Parcel A (see "Dust Still Settling," 3/28/07).
Beyond her problems with Lennar, Jackson worries that Newsom's plan doesn't account for climate change or the true cost of shipyard cleanup.
"Because of global warming, that entire area is going to be underwater," Jackson said. "And if Michael Cohen [of the Mayor's Office of Base Reuse] and the rest of them are really interested in cleaning up the area, they should send a resolution to the Board of Supervisors requesting that Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer, and Nancy Pelosi appropriate $5 billion, which is what it will really take to clean up the shipyard."
Jackson was also frustrated that neither the Hunters Point Shipyard Restoration Advisory Board, which is composed of local residents, tenants, and environmental and community groups, nor the regulators overseeing the cleanup have been consulted by the mayor in his haste to try to keep the 49ers in town by quickly building a new stadium.
Jackson, who bought a home in the Bayview 34 years ago, said residents want a thorough cleanup, not a rush job. That was what city residents said in November 2000 when they overwhelmingly approved Proposition P, demanding that no transfer of property take place "until the entire Shipyard is cleaned to residential standards."
"It's a landfill, and it needs to be removed," Jackson said.
Yet Lennar, which won the contract to redevelop the shipyard, is in a worsening financial position to deal with unexpected challenges at the site. The company's profits plummeted more than 70 percent in the first quarter of 2007 because of the slumping housing market. Jackson doesn't believe the cleanup will cost $300 million, a figured touted by Cohen, but she questions where the cleanup money will come from.
"Only white folks will be able to afford the 8,900 housing units that Lennar is proposing to build near the stadium," Jackson said.
The Chronicle's overwhelmingly positive coverage of the mayor's shipyard plan came shortly after Lennar Urban president Kofi Bonner wrote to the Board of Supervisors and the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency claiming that articles in the Guardian and the Chronicle about Lennar's asbestos and dust problems at the shipyard and the lawsuit by employees "are full of errors, inaccuracies and misinformation."
Asked what errors Bonner was referring to, Lennar spokesperson Sam Singer told the Guardian, "My main complaint is with the lawsuit, which contains numerous false allegations, and with the Chronicle's article, which called these employees 'executives.' " Lennar has not requested any corrections of Guardian articles.
Asked about the lawsuit's claim that Bonner sat by and allowed the alleged discrimination to happen, Singer told us, "Kofi is one of the leading African American executives in the nation." Neither Bonner nor Lennar vice president Paul Menaker, who are both named in the whistle-blower suit, returned the Guardian's calls as of press time.
Attorney Angela Alioto, who represents the three African American Lennar employees suing the company, told the Guardian that Singer's defense of Bonner is "racist."
"Just because Kofi is African American means he couldn't discriminate?" Alioto asked.
Equally disturbing is the Mayor's Office's reliance on Lennar for accurate information about the developer's performance at the shipyard. When the Guardian contacted Newsom press secretary Nathan Ballard for comment about Lennar, he wrote to the Guardian, "You might want to give Sam Singer a call. He's the spokesperson for Lennar and can really answer questions about that stuff ... accurately."
After making it clear that we wanted Newsom's perspective, not Lennar's, Ballard wrote that the Mayor's Office is "confident the systems we have in place will protect human health," an answer that dodges our question about the violations that happened over a six-month period in 2006.
Insisting that Lennar will not be asked to take over the cleanup, Ballard claimed that "if the city pursues an 'early transfer' with the Navy, a specialized environmental remediation firm, not Lennar, would finish certain elements of the cleanup. And the city will have extensive oversight over any such work."
Ballard refused to comment on the suit brought against Lennar by three of its employees but went into detail about the Restoration Advisory Board, which he said was "created by the Navy to advise the Navy."
"The city created its own Citizens Advisory Board independent of the Navy for local input from the Bayview community," Ballard claimed.
He also maintained that the "Navy is and will always remain legally responsible for paying for the cleanup. Over the last three to four years, we have secured more cleanup money for the shipyard than any other closed Navy base in the county. We intend to have those robust funding levels continue."
This was also one of the most toxic bases in the country, which is why the conversion effort has been difficult. Plaintiff Guy McIntyre also alleges it is complicated because of chicanery. Before being demoted, McIntyre said he told his bosses there were "severe discrepancies in the invoicing submitted by Gordon Ball," which has a $20 million construction contract with Lennar.
"Specifically, while Gordon Ball stated that over $1 million was going to a certain minority-owned subcontractor, only a small fraction of that money was actually going to the subcontractor," the lawsuit contends.
We have been trying to review those public records, so far without success. James Fields, contract compliance supervisor for the Redevelopment Agency, told us that Gordon Ball subcontracted with several minority business enterprises, including Michael Spencer Masonry, Oliver Transbay, Remediation Services, Bayview Hunters Point Trucking, and Gordon Ball's joint-venture partner, Yerba Buena.
Fields said, "I have been advised that the project manager usually presides over the collection of the data but that they are out of the country. Because the project is substantially completed, we will ask the prime contractor, which is Ball, and the minority business enterprises and the women business enterprises under Ball to show us how much they were paid, then compare the sets of records."
In other words, there are still more unanswered questions about Lennar and its subcontractors. *