Lennar Corp. is proposing to build 10,500 new homes in southeast San Francisco, mostly on publicly-owned land. Will the Board of Supervisors stand up to its juggernaut?
None of the many stakeholders tracking the progress of Lennar Corp.'s massive Candlestick Point-Hunters Point Shipyard redevelopment plan registered surprise when the Board of Supervisors received three appeals to the Planning Commission's June 3 certification of the project's final environmental impact report (FEIR).
Instead, everybody who has been watching the political juggernaut that has been pushing for quick approval of the project over the past month said they anticipated that the FEIR would be appealed, and perhaps litigated. But the real question is whether the project will be substantially changed.
In the seven months since the project's draft EIR was released, the Planning and Redevelopment Commissions have repeatedly rejected all arguments and recommendations made by its critics to improve or delay the plan, rushing the approval along on a tight schedule ("The Candlestick Farce," 12/21/09).
The rush job occurred even as numerous groups and individuals warned that the DEIR comment period was too short, ("DEIR in the headlights," 02/03/10) and complained that the city and the developer had dismissed crucial data and testimony while exploiting fears the San Francisco 49ers would leave town if the city didn't act quickly ("Political juggernaut," 06/02/10).
What's less clear is whether the Board of Supervisors has the political will to heed these appeals and correct what opponents say are serious flaws in the city's FEIR. The appeal that the Sierra Club, Golden Gate Audubon Society, California Native Plant Society, and San Francisco Tomorrow filed June 21 lists nine deficiencies.
These included the FEIR's failure to look into an alternate Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) route around Yosemite Slough or adequately assess impacts resulting from the landfill cap on Parcel E2 and the transfer of 20 acres of public shoreline land in Candlestick Point State Recreation Area (CPSRA) to build high-end housing.
"The FEIR failed to analyze those elements of the project's sustainability plan that could have significant environmental impacts, including two proposed heating and cooling plants (which appear to be power plants) to serve 10,500 housing units and a projectwide recycling collection system," the coalition further charged.
The appeal also voiced concern that the FEIR failed to adequately assess impacts resulting from the construction and maintenance of the development's underground utility matrix, impacts to the bird-nesting in the proposed 34-acre wetland restoration project at the state park, and delays to eight Muni lines.
But the Sierra Club-led coalition also indicated that by removing provisions for a bridge over Yosemite Slough, transfer of land in the state park, and compromised clean-up efforts at Parcel E2, resolution of many of these disputed issues could be expedited.
"If the Board of Supervisors acts promptly, revisions to the EIR may be made quickly and result in a minimal delay in the progress of the project," the coalition stated.
The Sierra Club's Arthur Feinstein told the Guardian that the coalition's top three concerns are "very important, but the six other issues are also very real."
"Here we have a city cutting 10 percent of its bus service while saying that eight bus routes will need to be improved because of the project, and admitting that the development will increase air pollution in a district that has the highest rates of asthma and cancer without identifying mitigations such as reducing parking spaces in the proposal," Feinstein said.
POWER (People Organized to Win Employment Rights) also filed an FEIR appeal June 21 listing a broader range of environmental and economic justice-related concerns.
These included the FEIR's failure to analyze and mitigate for displacement that would be triggered in the surrounding neighborhood by developing 10,500 mostly market-rate housing units in the area and "failure to provide for adequate oversight and enforcement of the terms of the early transfer" of the shipyard from the Navy.
POWER also cited the FEIR's failure to adequately mitigate against the impact of sea level rise, the risks associated with potential liquefaction of contaminated landfill at the shipyard in the event of an earthquake, and health risks related to chemicals of concern at the shipyard. The group also faulted the city's failure to get the Navy to prepare an environmental impact statement on its clean-up plan before the FEIR was completed.
Finally, Californians for Renewable Energy (CARE) filed a five-point appeal June 23 charging that the project contravened the intent of Proposition P (which voters approved in 2000, urging the Navy to remediate shipyard pollution to the maximum extent possible), that the project's FEIR is incomplete because the Navy (which still retains jurisdiction over the project lands) has not yet completed its EIS, and that the FEIR approval process was tainted by 49ers-related political pressure.
"The pre-set goal of maintaining the 49ers in San Francisco has colored the environmental analysis of this decision," CARE noted, referring to the city's rush to get the project's FEIR certified on June 3 — five days before Santa Clara County voters approved a new stadium for the 49ers near Great America .
The appeal filings mean the Board of Supervisors is required to hold a hearing within 30 days, a move that places a roadblock, at least temporarily, in the way of the city's tight schedule to secure final approvals for Lennar's megaproject before summer's end.
Board President David Chiu told the Guardian that the Board's Land Use Committee will move forward with a July 13 meeting to hear a list of proposed amendments related to the underlying plan along with the FEIR appeals.
"We are back at the board Land Use Committee July 12 with 10 items related to the project," said Chiu, who is a member of the Land Use Committee. The three-member committee is chaired by Sup. Sophie Maxwell, who represents the project's District 10; Sup. Eric Mar is vice-chair.
"The next day, July 13, has been tentatively set for a full meeting of the full board," Chiu continued. He acknowledged that the FEIR related materials are dense and complex, telling us that "they form the largest pile on my desk, and it's about five inches high."
But he wasn't about to prejudge the outcome. "We do need to clean up the area and rebuild it in such a way that it will dramatically increase affordable housing and jobs and support a livable diverse community," Chiu said. "Obviously there are still a lot of questions and concerns about the proposed project and the board will push to make sure all these issues are adequately addressed."
CARE president Michael Boyd said he hoped the board would take his group's appeal seriously and fix the plan's fundamental shortcomings. "That means going back to square one," he said.
But others were less sure that the board would seek to overturn the entire plan. "Everyone in the community would like the best level of clean-up," said Saul Bloom, whose nonprofit Arc Ecology has tracked the proposed shipyard clean-up for three decades. "But what's possible and practical? And will the city be supportive of that or the most expeditious solution?"
Bloom reserved gravest concern for plans to cap, not remove, the contaminants from the shipyard's Parcel E2. "The concern is that if you put a cap on E2 without a liner then contaminants could scootch out during a seismic event, or over time, and cause problems because of the parcel's close proximity to surrounding groundwater and the San Francisco Bay," he said. "But to place a liner in there is very expensive because you'd have to excavate E2, at which point you might as well replace it with clean soil."
Bloom acknowledged that the Navy has argued that excavation would cause a nasty smell and nobody knows what is going to be released in the process.
"But long-term Bayview residents like Espanola Jackson have made the point that the community already lives within nose-shot of the southeast sewage treatment plant and would rather put up with a few years of nasty smells, given the relative benefits of cleaning the yard up," he said. "And how do we know a cap will be protective given the Navy's argument that we don't know what's down there?
"The thing that makes the most sense here is to clean up the shipyard to the best possible extent, but the city isn't planning to do that," Bloom added. "And the environmental community's bottom line has always been the bridge [over Yosemite Slough, which the Sierra Club opposes]. So the sense is that if the bridge goes away, so does their problem."