A north Berkeley housing complex planned for where an old gas station once stood at 1797 Shattuck Ave. could pose health risks to neighbors, according to nearby residents.
Art Goldberg, who lives a few blocks from the site, insists that a Chevron gas station contaminated the property with cancer-causing gasoline additives MTBE and benzene until its closure in 1999. The site’s current development plan, he says, fails to protect neighbors from residual gasoline vapors that may be released during construction of the proposed five-story complex.
“There is highly toxic stuff floating around in the ground there, and the city is just ignoring it,” said Goldberg.
But city staff refuted environmental concerns. They say their plan to safeguard neighbors and workers is sufficient and has worked at other sites with similar contamination.
Tonight, City Council will consider an appeal of the project filed by Goldberg and neighbor Barry Wofsy, who say they will sue the city if council approves the development. The project was proposed by Berkeley-developer Avi Nevo and is slated to contain four stories of housing above a floor of shops.
In July, the Zoning Adjustment Board voted unanimously to approve the project, signaling that it was comfortable with city plans to deal with hazardous chemicals.
Goldberg’s appeal to the ZAB decision argues that the city didn’t conduct an adequate environmental review before signing off on the development.
Currently under the plan, Chevron will hire Cambria Environmental Technology, an environmental cleanup contractor to monitor the site and remove contaminated soil. According to Bob Foss, Senior Project Geologist at Cambria, the company will have state-of-the-art detectors measuring vapors released from the construction site to assure safe conditions.
“If vapor concentrations reach dangerous levels, we can request that the contractors shut down the operation,” said Foss, who said vapors can be limited by wetting the soil and then taking the soil to a waste site.
Goldberg, though, worries that Cambria’s first loyalty will be to Chevron’s bottom line and not city residents.
“I don’t see how the city can let a developer do this,” said Goldberg, who wants a preliminary cleanup done by a city-appointed firm. “If a developer pays the consultant, they’re going to give him the result he wants.”
But Nevo explained that Chevron is required to hire an independent environmental firm because they are responsible for the contamination.
City hazardous materials specialist Geoffrey Fiedler said that on-site monitors have already shown that benzene levels are decreasing. He noted that an extensive cleanup, suggested by Goldberg, could pose more risks than just letting the hazardous materials naturally dissipate.
Fiedler said that parties involved in the Shattuck development did a nearly identical project at 1820 Solano Ave., where the city also worked to prevent release of harmful vapors from a Chevron gas station.
Nevo said the Shatuck development was designed with the gas station in mind and seeks to minimize possible exposure to harmful gas chemicals. An underground garage will be dug in an area that has not tested positive for chemicals, while the most contaminated space will be covered with concrete.
“This is not the first building built on a gas station,” he said.
Contact reporter at