Hancock Waste Site Bill Set for Assembly Hearing By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Friday April 15, 2005

At least two East Bay residents will testify later this month on two bills that would transform regulation of toxic waste sites. 

Inspired by ongoing events at Campus Bay, a hazardous waste site in Richmond proposed as the grounds for a 1,330-unit housing development, the measures were written by Assemblymember Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley-Richmond. 

The measures, designated Assembly Bills 1360 and 1546, go before the Assembly’s Committee of Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials on April 23. 

Sherry Padgett, an outspoken critic of events at Campus Bay and the adjacent UC Berkeley Richmond Field Station, said she has been invited to testify, along with Contra Costa County Public Health Director Wendel Brunner. 

Brunner has expressed concerns about the way demolitions were handled on the site under the aegis of the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board and plans to build housing atop 350,000 cubic yards of buried industrial waste at Campus Bay. 

A hearing on the site conducted by Hancock and Assembly Rules Committee Chair Cindy Montanez last year ended with the water board surrendering jurisdiction over most of the site to the state Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC). The handover came after the water board’s top official acknowledged his agency didn’t have a toxicologist on its staff. DTSC is a statewide agency well-staffed with toxicologists and other experts.  

“I am trying to end the practice of agency-shopping,” Hancock said. 

Under existing law, a developer can chose between the DTSC and the local water quality control board. Hancock said AB 1360 would divide responsibilities “at the water’s edge, with the water board responsible for the water and the DTSC responsible for dry land with some collaboration at the interface, especially on complex sites.” 

The legislation would create a special category called the “public health priority site” in cases where potential releases of toxins could pose a threat to present and future workers and residents on or near the site. 

Hancock said her special concern was cases where an industrial site or a site to be remediated to industrial and commercial levels was changed to housing. At Campus Bay, developer Cherokee Simeon Ventures originally intended to build a private industry research park on the heavily contaminated former site of a chemical factory, then switched plans to housing after the market collapse following Sept. 11, 2001. 

The developer has since been selected by UC Berkeley to develop an academic/corporate research facility immediately to the north at the Richmond Field Station.  

Her second measure, AB 1546, calls for a change in the structure of management of toxic cleanups by the state Environmental Protection Agency. 

The bill calls for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to convene a Cleanup Agency Consolidation Task Force, composed of one member each from the DTSC, the water boards and the state Department of Health Services, Radiological Health Branch. 

The new agency would be assigned authorities and duties now resting with the existing agencies, and operate under clear, unified standards in managing hazardous waste sites earmarked for development, called brownfields. 

“I am looking for consensus from the entire environmental community,” Hancock said.›