Richmond residents, business folk, environmental activists and newly elected City Councilmember Gayle McLaughlin braved the 40-degree cold Wednesday morning to picket one of the entrances to Campus Bay, protesting ongoing operations at the site.
Home to a 350,000-cubic-yard hazardous waste dump and the projected home to a 1330-unit residential complex, the site has been the continuing target of residents worried that their health may be damaged by the spread of hazardous substances leaking or blowing from the site, home for a century to a chemical manufacturing complex.
Dr. Jeffrey B. Ritterman, chief of cardiology at Kaiser Oakland, marched the picket line carrying a sign emblazoned with “Richmond Doctor Says No Love Canal in Richmond.”
“What do we do with a toxic dump in the middle of the Bay Trail?,” he asked. “It’s preposterous to build housing there. But the City of Richmond and the Planning Commission are trying to ram this and other projects through the system without involving the people,” he said.
“We need redevelopment, but in a way that’s healthy. We need development in places like the Iron Triangle, the Nystrom neighborhood and other areas of the city.”
Ritterman also called on the city to emulate San Francisco and adopt the precautionary principle: When there’s reason to suppose something may be hazardous, don’t do it.
Among the 48 or so other marchers was his colleague, Kaiser Richmond gastroenterologist Dr. Jean-Luc Szpakowski.
“My concern is the long-term effects of toxins in an area which already has such a high rate of cancer. When colleagues come into the community, they find that people are sicker than where they come from,” he said.
Neighboring business owners joined other protesters, carrying picket signs hammered together by Jess Kray, president of Kray Cabling. They marched in the morning cold chanting, “Safety and health before corporate wealth, safety and health before corporate wealth.”
Wednesday’s action came as lawyers for the San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board and their counterparts at the state Department of Toxic Substances (DTSC) finished negotiations to hand over much of the site from water board jurisdiction to the DTSC.
Both agencies are part of the state Environmental Protection Agency, which itself was taunted by the marchers as they chanted, “E.P.A.—Earn your pay.”
Activists regard the agreement as a mixed blessing, preferring to have the whole site under DTSC control because the agency has a sizable scientific staff, while the water board lacks even a single toxicologist.
“The EPA should wake up,” said McLaughlin, who will join the City Council in January. By splitting site jurisdiction, she said, “the EPA is rolling over again.”
On Tuesday, both EPA agencies released copies of letters they had sent to Russell Pitto, chair and CEO of Simeon Properties, and Brian Spiller, general manager for Environmental Services and Engineering for Astra Zeneca, the last owner of the since-destroyed chemical manufacturing complex.
Simeon is a Marin County development firm and half of Cherokee Simeon Ventures, which has been developing the upland portion of the site in conjunction with Cherokee Investment Partners.
Based in North Carolina, Cherokee is a multinational firm which invests public and private pension funds to develop projects on Brownfields, which are rehabilitated contaminated sites.
Pitto’s name was invoked in one of the chants from the picket line: “Hey! Hey! Russell P. How do you spell toxicity?”
Some of the chants were muffled by the surgical and gas masks sported by some of the colorfully clad.
On hand at the margins of the demonstration to speak on behalf of Cherokee Simeon was Karen Stern of Singer Associates, a San Francisco public relations firm that represents such clients as ChevronTexaco, the DeBartolo Corporation, BART, Levi Stauss & Co., Ford Motor Co., the San Francisco 49ers and the Anschutz Investment Co.
Stern handed out to reporters a prepared statement from CSV that began “Today’s protest is a disservice to the regulatory process and the project’s commitment to a working relationship with state regulatory agencies, the community, and the City of Richmond.”
The second paragraph contained one controversial characterization of demands made by project opponents at the Nov. 6 State Assembly joint committee hearing on project oversight.
“[T]he industrial neighbors and others demanded DTSC’s oversight. . .Now the industrial neighbors don’t want to play by the rules they helped create.”
In fact, critics, both business owners and citizens, at the hearing conducted by Assemblymembers Loni Hancock (D-East Bay) and Cindy Montanez (D-San Fernando Valley) pleaded for DTSC to take over complete supervision of the site, not the split jurisdiction that resulted from the hearing.
Under the new accord, the water board will continue to exercise jurisdiction over the excavation and replacement of contaminated muck from Stege Marsh at the edge of the site and the restoration of the marsh, while DTSC monitors the upland portion, including the massive mound of buried waste and the newly added marsh soils now being stored in an exposed portion of the waste mound.
According to the letter from local DTSC Chief Barbara J. Cook, her agency is currently evaluating the status of the upland portion of the site to determine what additional remedial work may be needed and monitoring the air and water for traces of hazardous dust and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
The letters are legally binding interim documents, to be followed in several weeks by revised version of the original water board cleanup orders and a new order from DTSC,
Cook’s agency is also evaluating the Biologically Active Permeable Barrier between the upland and the marsh, a limited-lifespan construction that uses plants to extract toxins from water flowing the from upland waste heap toward the bay.
One UC policeman monitored Wednesday’s demonstration to make certain vehicles headed for the university’s Richmond Field Station could pass through.
UC College of Natural Resources Assistant Professor Claudia Carr asked the occupants of each vehicle where they were headed, and marchers were prepared to block any headed for Campus Bay.
Instead, the crews headed toward other site entrances, bypassing the brigade.
Richmond Police made several appearances, and once an officer asked “Are you demonstrating against Bush? Any chance you’re gonna burn him in effigy, ‘cause I got a lighter if you do.”
Ninety minutes after it began, Sherry Padgett, with Carr a mainspring of Bay Area Residents for Responsible Development, the primary organization behind the demonstration, thanked the participants for turning out, especially members of the Richmond Neighborhood Councils and the Downwind Property Owners, many of whom own businesses immediately to the south of Campus Bay.
Also walking the picket line was Jessica Tovar, a San Francisco-based community and youth organizer for Greenaction For Health and Environmental Justice.
“This is great,” she said of the demonstration. “This is just awesome.”
Tovar will be marching another picket link next Wednesday as her organization protests the continued operation of PG&E’s Hunters Point Power Plant in San Francisco, a site they say is linked to asthma and other health problems in surrounding residential neighborhoods.
Peter Weiner, BARRD’s attorney and the lead negotiator in the group’s discussion with Cherokee Simeon representatives, said the group’s demonstration was motivated by desperation and concern.
“The environmental agencies have demonstrated that they cannot or will not stop the developer from piling the toxic waste on site,” Weiner said. Though Cherokee Simeon plans to remove the excavated marsh soils in the spring, “meanwhile it grows and dries and the wind blows the dust.
“We want the marsh restored, but not at the cost of human health,” he said.
DTSC spokesperson Angela Blanchette insisted Thursday that her agency considers the dredging operations to be safe. “The soil is wet and we are finding nothing that’s drying and turning into dust,” she said.
Contra Costa County Public Health Director Wendel Brunner expressed his concerns about the upland cleanup two years ago—the cleanup that produced the 350,000 cubic yards buried at Campus Bay—which resulted in massive amounts of possibly contaminated dust blowing off the site.
Brunner’s concern about Cherokee Simeon’s plans for moving the soil this spring are focused on the phase when giant tilling machines will mix lime with the marsh soil to neutralize acids in the mixture, raising the possibly of further offsite dust contamination.›