In a victory for Bayview Hunters Point community and environmental justice groups, a superior court judge ruled yesterday that the City of San Francisco’s redevelopment plan for the former Hunters Point Naval Shipyard failed to properly evaluate the environmental and health risks from allowing the Navy to transfer ownership of the contaminated Superfund site before the clean-up of the area is complete.
Last year, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved the massive 702-acre development that proposed varying projects including 10,500 housing units and a new 69,000-seat football stadium for the San Francisco 49ers on the troubled Shipyard property and neighboring Candlestick Point. The construction by the developer Lennar Urban Corporation is projected to last more than twenty years.
The court found that the Environmental Impact Report’s (EIR) project description improperly excluded the early transfer activities that will be conducted by the City and Lennar. Because of this deficiency, the court ordered that the early transfer and development of the Shipyard parcels may not proceed until the federally-mandated remediation process is completed and approved by the regulating agencies as safe for human health and development. The court stated, however, that the remainder of the project can proceed.
City officials and the Lennar Corporation claimed there was no need for the EIR to evaluate the environmental and health impacts of transferring the contaminated Superfund site to the City and the developer in advance of complete clean-up. However, the court found that under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the City has the responsibility to evaluate these impacts. The court also recognized that under early transfer the City and Lennar would become responsible for much of the cleanup as part of the redevelopment, a task which the EIR simply ignored.
“Local residents are extremely concerned about the toxic and radiological contamination at the Shipyard,” said George Torgun, an attorney with Earthjustice who represented community groups in the lawsuit against the City. “The community supports the cleanup and redevelopment of the area and they welcome the jobs it will bring,” Torgun pointed out, “but they want some assurance that the site will be safe and the redevelopment work will not harm the workers on the project and surrounding residents.”
Pollution problems at the Hunters Point Shipyard date back to World War II, when the Shipyard’s massive dry docks were used to build and repair U.S. Navy warships. Fuels, solvents, and lead paint were routinely used—and dumped—at the facility.
When atomic tests began in the south Pacific, radioactive waste was added to the toxic mix. From 1946 to 1969, the Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory at Hunters Point decontaminated ships and studied the effects of nuclear weapons.
The shipyard was later leased to the Triple A Machine Shop, a company that was eventually charged with criminal violations for the illegal storage and disposal of hazardous waste on the property.
In 1989, the shipyard was designated as San Francisco’s only federal Superfund site under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA).
Earthjustice, a non-profit public interest law firm, argued the suit on behalf of People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER) and Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice, two community organizations based in Bayview-Hunters Point. The neighborhood is one of the most economically-disadvantaged areas of San Francisco with a large population of color. Residents already suffer an elevated rate of asthma and other respiratory diseases.
"The blocking of early transfer of toxic contaminated land is an important win for this community that had been dealt a stacked deck. It is a victory for our health, for our families, and for our future. The Lennar Corporation is known for ignoring toxic contamination in other regions where it develops on decommissioned military sites, and Bayview Hunters Point is one community where we will not allow them to cut corners,” said Jaron Browne of POWER. “However, even with this ruling, we need to remain vigilant that the Navy genuinely completely a thorough clean-up and does not rush the process to meet development timetables.”
“This is an important victory for health and environmental justice, and for all the current and future residents of Bayview Hunters Point who don’t want to live or raise their kids on toxic soil,” said Marie Harrison, Greenaction community organizer and long-time Bayview Hunters Point resident.
"Look, it's simple, we just want development that is safe for the workers, the community, and anyone working, living, and raising families in our neighborhood," said POWER member and Bayview resident Esselene Stancil. "Any community deserves that.”