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Environmental Review Questions Delay Richmond Project

Friday July 23, 2004

Developers of the proposed massive Campus Bay waterfront residential development in Richmond have put their plans on hold pending completion of a key environmental review by the California Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB). 

While the project’s original timeline anticipated all approvals would be in hand this month, Richmond Planning Director Barry Cromartie notified developer Cherokee Simeon in late June that RCWQB delays had forced him to divert city staff to other projects. 

Cherokee Simeon is a joint venture by Marin County developer SImeon Properties and Cherokee Investment Partners, a firm that specializes in building on renovated toxic sites.  

Simeon Vice President Susan J. Cronk asked the city earlier this month to suspend all processing on the project “until further notice.”  

“This is a long-term process, and it will take more than days, weeks or even a few months to complete,” said Curtis T. Scott, chief of the Groundwater Protection and Waste Containment Division of the water board’s San Francisco regional office. 

“We’ve met with local citizens, and they are requesting updates on project work plans and we’re working on the notification process,” Scott said. 

“Last winter the developers came to us and said they wanted to do residential development on the site. ‘Really?’ we said. Then we called (California) Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) and they’re working with us,” Scott said. 

The water board’s primary concern is the wetlands on the western edge of the site. They had no objections to Simeon’s original plans for the site, which called for light industrial development, but things changed when the developer, in the wake of the post-9/11 economic slowdown, switched to housing.  

The water board has raised several concerns about the reconceived project, including the possible effect of toxic exposures to long-term residents, and is seeking input from several federal, state and local agencies, including: 

• The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

• U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 

• Army Corps of Engineers. 

• Bay Conservation and Development Commission. 

• California Department of Toxic Substances Control. 

• Contra Costa County De-partment of Environmental Health. 

• East Bay Regional Parks District. 

• Bay Area Air Quality Management District. 

“If we reach a point where our staff wants to either approve or deny the project, we’ll send out notification to the concerned parties and they will have 30 days to respond before we hold a public hearing,” Scott said. 

Of particular concern to the state’s Department of Toxic Substances control is the question of whether development over the contaminated soil of a former chemical site poses health risks to residents of the proposed 1,330-unit complex of 18-story high-rise, three-to-eight-story mid-rise condos, plus townhouses condos and low-rise loft apartments. 

The site also houses a 16-acre life sciences center, with two of the projected four research buildings already in operation, which the DTSC had earlier approved. Residential use, however, raised different issues. 

From 1897 to 1997, the 40-acre site, located west of I-580 southwest of Meade Street near the Bayview Avenue exit, housed plants producing industrial and agricultural chemicals. 

Stauffer Chemical refined sulfur from iron pyrite, adding high levels of contaminants to the soil, and Zeneca, Inc., added additional toxics from its on-site production of nitric acid, fungicides, herbicides, insecticides and a potpourri of other compounds. 

The developer has confined the toxic soil under a clay cap which was deemed sufficient for the low rise buildings of a research park.  

The DTSC has raised their own concerns about the project, which they are currently evaluating. “We’re still reviewing the risk assessment,” said DTSC spokesperson Angela Blanchette. 

Barbara J. Cook, chief of the DTSC’s Berkeley-based Northern California Coastal Cleanup Operations Branch, wants the project’s environmental impact report (EIR) to address such issues as: 

• The impact to air quality from on-site construction and earth-moving activity. 

• How building larger structures on the treated soil would affect the protective cap and pollutants beneath. 

• Consequences of a major quake or other “catastrophic geological event” on the cap and protective barriers of the toxics site. 

• Potential exposure risks to builders, residents, workers visitors, recreational users, and sensitive wildlife habitats. 

• The possibility that hazardous wastes from other nearby sites might encroach on the site. 

• Possible health effects on residents and workers from exposure to the soil and to vapors rising up from groundwater. 

The project has raised considerable apprehension among some Richmond residents, and one group—Bay Area Residents for Responsible Development—has retained attorney Peter Weiner of Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker, a San Francisco law firm, to assist them in challenging the project. 

Weiner filed a seven-page letter raising issues the residents want the developer’s EIR and city staff to address. 

While raising concerns about toxins and the project’s impact on the environment, including loss of open space and wetlands along with habitat for an endangered shorebird—the clapper rail—Weiner also raises questions about the loss of view and other esthetic values to existing homeowners, additional strain on public services and increased traffic congestion. 

Simeon spokesperson Karen Stern of Singer Associates, a San Francisco public relations firm, said the developer is currently reevaluating the project to find ways to meet the concerns of Richmond residents and environmentalists. 

“We are looking at ways of redesigning the size and placements of the buildings,” Stern said. “The [high-rise] towers have been something of a lightning rod, and while we’re making no firm commitment, we are looking at ways to incorporate their concerns. It’s still the hope of Cherokee Simeon that they’ll be able to move forward with the residential project.” 

The developer is launching an Internet site early next week at “with a lot of information on the cleanup” of the toxic waste “to correct the misinformation that’s out there.” 

LFR Levine-Fricke, the Emeryville-based toxic cleanup specialists who performed the $20 million restoration of the Campus Bay site, is currently pushing a major casino and hotel project on another toxic Richmond site—the former U.S. Navy Fuel Depot at Point Molate. 

The Naval Facilities Engineering Command has scheduled a meeting for 6 p.m. Aug. 4 at the Richmond Public Library, 325 Civic Center Plaza to review the latest stage in the cleanup, this one focussed on a one-acre used as a dump between 1953 and 1957. 

Information on the site is available to the public at the library and at the Richmond Redevelopment Agency, 1401 Marina Way South.›