Board certifies Lennar's EIR, but a battle still looms over amendments to the massive redevelopment project
Lennar Corp.'s massive redevelopment plan for Candlestick Point-Hunters Point cleared a critical hurdle July 14 when the Board of Supervisors voted 8-3 to affirm the Planning Commission's certification of the project's final environmental impact report, with Sups. John Avalos, Chris Daly, and Eric Mar opposed
Board President David Chiu called the vote "a milestone." Termed-out Sup. Sophie Maxwell, whose District 10 includes Candlestick Point and the former Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, saw the vote as evidence that city leaders support the ambitious plan. Yet many political observers saw the vote as proof that Lennar and its Labor Council allies have succeeded in lobbying supervisors not to support opponents of the project.
"I'm concentrating on pushing this over the finish line," Maxwell said at the hearing in the wake of the vote, which came in the wee hours of July 14 after a 10-hour hearing. Supervisors can still amend Lennar's development plan during a July 27 hearing and project opponents are hoping for significant changes.
Mar said he wants to focus on guaranteeing that the city has the authority to hold Lennar responsible for its promises. "I want to make sure that we have the strongest enforcement we can," he said.
Lennar's plan continues to face stiff opposition from the Sierra Club, the Golden Gate Audubon Society, the California Native Plant Society, San Francisco Tomorrow, POWER (People Organized To Win Employment Rights) and CARE (Californians for Renewable Energy).
Representatives for these groups, whose appeals of the EIR certification were denied by the board, say they are now weighing their options. Those include taking legal action within 30 days of the board's second reading of and final action on the developer's final redevelopment plan, which will be Aug. 3 at the earliest.
Supervisors are expected to introduce a slew of amendments July 27, when they consider the details of the proposal and its impacts on the economically depressed and environmentally polluted.
Michael Cohen, Mayor Gavin Newsom's top economic advisor, admitted July 19 that all these various demands will likely delay project construction. "But 702 acres of waterfront land in San Francisco is an irreplaceable asset," Cohen reportedly told the San Francisco Chronicle. "It's not a question of if but when it gets developed."
Chiu already has introduced five amendments to the plan in an effort to alleviate concerns about shipyard toxins, Lennar's limited financial liability, a proposed bridge over Yosemite Slough, and the possibility that local residents will need more access to healthcare and training if they are to truly benefit from the development plan.
Sup. Ross Mirkarimi told the Guardian that he expects the board will require liquidated damages to ensure the city has some redress if the developer fails to deliver on a historic community benefits agreement that labor groups signed when Lennar was trying to shore up community support for Proposition G, the conceptual project plan voters approved in June 2008.
Mirkarimi said the board would also seek to increase workforce development benefits. "Thirty percent of the target workforce population are ex offenders. So while they might get training, currently they won't get jobs other than construction," Mirkarimi observed.
He supports the health care access amendment and the public power amendment Chiu introduced July 21, pointing to Mirkarimi's previous ordinance laying the groundwork for public power in the area. "This ordinance established that where feasible, the City shall be the electricity provider for new City developments, including military bases and development projects," Mirkarimi said. "PG&E was ripped when we pushed that through."
But Sierra Club activist Arthur Feinstein isn't sure if additional amendments will help, given intense lobbying by city officials and a developer intent on winning project approvals this summer before a new board and mayor are elected this fall.
"Chiu's amendments gave us what we asked for over Parcel E-2" Feinstein said, referring to a severely contaminated section of the shipyard for which Chiu wants an amendment calling for a board hearing on whether it's clean enough to be accepted by the city and developed on.
But Feinstein is less than happy with Chiu's Yosemite Slough amendment, which would limit a proposed bridge over it to a width of 41 feet and only allow bike, pedestrian, and transit use unless the 49ers elect to build a new stadium on the shipyard. In that case, the project would include a wider bridge to accommodate game-day traffic.
"The average lane size is 14 feet, so that's a three-lane bridge. So it's still pretty big. And it would end up filling almost an acre of the bay," Feinstein said.
Feinstein thanked Mirkarimi and Campos for asking questions that showed that the argument for the bridge has not been made. "But it's disappointing that a progressive Board would be willing to fill the Bay for no reason," Feinstein said.
He concurred with the testimony of Louisiana-based environmental scientist Wilma Subra and environmental and human rights activist Monique Harden, who challenged the wisdom of the Navy digging out toxins while the developer installs infrastructure at the same site.
Subra said contamination is often found at Superfund sites after they have been declared clean when contractors to later dig into capped sites and expose workers and the community to contamination. Harden said the plan to begin construction on some shipyard parcels while the Navy removes radiological-contamination from shipyard sewers is "like a person jumping up and down on a bed that another person is trying to make."
But Cohen, who has aggressively pushed the project on Newsom's behalf, countered that there is no scientific evidence to support such concerns. "It's a very common situation," Cohen said. "It's the basis for shipyard artists and the police being on the site for many years ... It's safe based on an extraordinary amount of data."
But Feinstein pointed to his experience working for the Golden Gate Audubon Society at the former Alameda Naval Station. He recalls how a remediation study was completed, but then an oil spill occurred at the site, which had been designated as a wildlife refuge.
"The military didn't know about everything that happened and was stored on site, and it's easy to miss a hot spot," he said. "And who'll be monitoring when all these homes are built with deeds that restrict the renters and owners from digging in their backyards?"
Feinstein said he's concerned that only Campos seemed to be asking questions and making specific requests for information around the proposed project's financing
"Lennar is paying city staff and consultants and promising labor huge numbers of jobs. When you are throwing that much money around, it's hard for people to resist and the city has been co-opted," Feinstein said. "And how much analysis and resistance can you expect from city commissions when the Mayor's Office is the driving force behind the project? So we don't have a stringent review. The weakness of the strategy of ignoring our bridge concerns is that when we sue, we may raise a whole bunch of issues."
Arc Ecology director Saul Bloom says Chiu's bridge proposal "screwed up the dialogue. We were close to a deal," Bloom claims. "But while that amendment allowed one board member to showboat, it prevented the problem from being solved."
Bloom is concerned that under the financing deal, the project won't make any money for at least 15 years and will be vulnerable to penalties and bumps in the market an equation that could lead the developer to build only market rate housing at the site.
"It's a problematic analysis at best," he said.
"The bigger the development, the more it benefits people who have the capacity to address it and that's not the community," Bloom said. "So there'll be more discussion of the bridge, and that's where the horse-trading is going to be."
He also said the bridge has now taken on a symbolic value. "The thing about the bridge is that it's not actually about the bridge any more," Bloom added. "It's about Lennar telling people, 'You will support us.' If they get the bridge, it will give them free rein, an unencumbered capacity to do as they see fit. They are willing to make deals, but they have to have the bridge because it defeats the people who have been the most credible and visible and then they have no opposition."