Megadeveloper sues and is sued over toxic dust on Hunters Point
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Two years after Lennar Corp. reported that asbestos dust had neither been monitored nor controlled during major grading and earthmoving operations on its Parcel A construction site on Hunters Point Shipyard last year (see "The corporation that ate San Francisco," 3/14/08), the fallout from these failures continues.
On June 19 a dozen BayviewHunters Point residents and workers sued Lennar, as well as international environmental consultant CH2M Hill and Sacramento-based engineering consultant Gordon N. Ball, in Superior Court on behalf of their preschool and school-age children. The parents allege that their children suffered headaches, skin rashes, and respiratory ailments during Parcel A excavations, which occurred next to a predominantly African American and Latino community.
The plaintiffs charge Lennar, CH2M Hill, and Ball with public nuisance, negligence, environmental racism, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and battery. They are asking for monetary damages, a jury trial, and court costs.
But Lennar is apparently seeking to deflect the blame for these problems at the site entirely onto CH2M Hill through a new federal lawsuit, despite revelations in the Guardian (see "Question of intent," 11/28/07) that Lennar reprimanded its own staffer, Gary McIntyre, when he tried to bring Ball to heel for the company's failure to properly control the toxic asbestos dust.
On June 23, Lennar BVHP LLC sued subcontractor CH2M Hill for negligence, negligent misrepresentation, breach of contract, express indemnity, and unfair business practices in connection with its work on Parcel A.
"Lennar seeks to recover for the significant economic harm it has suffered in addressing the ramifications of CH2's gross and reckless misconduct in failing to provide competent asbestos air monitoring services for Lennar's redevelopment of a portion of Hunters Point Shipyard in San Francisco," states the suit, which seeks damages, restitution and indemnity, attorney fees, court costs, and a jury trial.
"Lennar's economic harm vastly exceeds $75,000," the suit notes. "CH2 has provided no compensation to Lennar and no other relief for its failures. Indeed, CH2 has never publicly acknowledged its clear responsibility for these failures."
CH2's Oakland-based vice president, Udai Singh, who signed a $392,600 contract with Lennar in January 2006 for asbestos dust monitoring services, told the Guardian, "Unfortunately I'm not working on that, so I have no clue what you are talking about.
"I thought I might have seen something about that, but since I have been working mostly on EPA stuff, I haven't been involved in this one," continued Singh, who has been project manager for remedial projects on Superfund sites for the federal EPA's Region IX, which includes Arizona, California, Hawaii, and Nevada.
Singh referred us to CH2's Denver-based counsel Kirby Wright, who referred us to CH2's public relations director, John Corsi, who did not return the Guardian's calls as of press time.
But while Lennar BVHP continues to contract with Gordon N. Ball at the shipyard, local resident Christopher Carpenter has sued the Sacramento-based contractor in Superior Court for whistleblower retaliation, wrongful termination, racial discrimination, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
As the Guardian reported, ("Green City: Signs of asbestos," 8/29/07), Carpenter was fired shortly after he complained about dust that was kicked up by a Ball backhoe excavating the Parcel A hillside on Oct. 2, 2006.
"Carpenter became surrounded by a cloud of dust that was caused by Gordon Ball's failure to water the ground prior to commencing grading," the suit alleges, noting that Carpenter complained about Ball's unsafe and unhealthy working conditions, some of which violated Bay Area Air Quality Management District regulations and the city's Health Code, before he was fired.
At City Hall, Sup. Sophie Maxwell is seeking to amend the city's Building Code to require more-stringent dust control measures for demolition and construction projects. (The Building Inspection Commission opposed Maxwell's proposal in December 2007, in a 43 vote).
On July 22, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to support Maxwell's dust legislation.
Meanwhile, the Rev. Christopher Muhammad, who represents the Muhammad University of Islam adjacent to Parcel A, asked the San Francisco Health Commission to investigate why it took until July 14 for the local community to learn of an asbestos-level violation that occurred at Lennar's Parcel A site just four days before the June 3 election.
Muhammad suspects the infraction was hushed up because Lennar was engaged in the most expensive initiative battle in San Francisco's history, plunking down a total of $5 million to support the ultimately successful Proposition G, which gives the developer control of Candlestick Point and the shipyard.
Amy Brownell of the Department of Public Health told the Guardian that the violation, which registered at 138,800 structures per cubic meter of air (the city's work shutdown level is set at 16,000 structures) did not trigger a work suspension because there was no work planned at Lennar's site May 31 or June 1, which was a weekend.