Legislation, Protest Target Richmond Sites By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Friday April 22, 2005

Three separate bills inspired by the struggles over the polluted site of a proposed housing complex in Richmond are scheduled for hearings Tuesday in Sacramento. 

Meanwhile, members of the Richmond Progressive Alliance, joined by Bay Area Residents for Responsible Development (BARRD), have called for a public protest at the site three days after the hearings. 

The April 26 protests will target both Campus Bay, where the 1,330-unit housing complex is planned, and UC Berkeley’s Richmond Field Station next door. Both sites have been contaminated by more than a century of chemical manufacturing. 

The activists are urging the state Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to act on a Richmond City Council resolution passed in February urging the agency to hand oversight of the sites to the state Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC). 

At Tuesday’s hearings, the Assembly Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials will consider three bills, two from Assemblymember Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley, Richmond), and a third by Cindy Montanez, a San Fernando Valley Democrat and political powerhouse. 

Hancock and Montanez presided over a Nov. 3, 2004 legislative hearing at the Richmond Field Station that explored the history of pollution and proposed development at Campus Bay. The hearing ended with a change of regulatory control, with most of the site passing from the jurisdiction of the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board to the DTSC. The water board has no toxics expertise, while the state toxics agency is well-staffed with toxicologists and other experts. 

Both Montanez—who chairs both the powerful Assembly Rules Committee and the Select Committee on Environmental Justice—and Hancock vowed to craft legislation to change the way the handling of hazardous waste cleanups are handled on redevelopment sites. 

Montanez’s bill is designed to fix one of the major flaws in the current process, in which a developer is allowed to chose between regulators. As the law now stands, the developer can choose between the regional water board and the DTSC.  

Montanez’s legislation, AB 597, would impose: 

• The same public disclosure and participation standards on both agencies, with mandatory public notification of all decisions and proposed actions; 

• Public access to site assessments and proposed cleanup plans, both at the local office of the regulatory agency and in convenient public locations such as libraries. 

• A mandatory 30-day period for public review of the proposed cleanup plans, with the regulatory agency mandated to consider public comments. 

• A mandatory public meeting near the site during the public comment period if one is requested. 

• Coordination and integration of public participation activities—to the greatest extent possible—with other public agencies involved in the development, investigation and rehabilitation of the site.  

In her own district, Montanez has been at the center of battles over a planned development at a heavily contaminated site that once housed a plumbing fixtures manufacturing plant. In that case the developer chose the local water board as a regulator, effectively denying participation by an increasingly concerned public.  

One of Hancock’s measures—AB 1360—would hand jurisdiction of dry land sites to the DTSC, with the water board taking jurisdiction at the water’s edge. 

Her second bill—AB 1546—is designed to create a long-term fix by mandating the creation of a Cleanup Agency Consolidation Task Force which would be charged with creating the Department of Environmental Management (DEM). 

The DEM would combine the functions and staffs of the DTSC, the state and local water boards and the Radiological Health Branch of the state Department of Health Services into a single agency with standardized policies and rules for public access and participation. 

Sherry Padgett, who is scheduled to speak Tuesday along with Contra Costa County Public Health Director Dr. Wendel Brunner, is one of the organizers of the April 26 protest. 

Both Padgett and Gayle McLaughlin, a Richmond Progressive Alliance candidate elected to the City Council last November, hope next Friday’s protest will jar the state EPA—which includes both the water boards and DTSC—into compliance with a Richmond City Council resolution calling for both sites to be handed over to the DTSC. 

The water board currently has oversight of the UC Field Station as well as the marsh at the edge of Campus Bay. 

Both properties are currently targeted for development by Cherokee-Simeon Properties, a joint venture firm which has engaged in extensive development on Bay Area sites cleaned up under the water board’s aegis. 

UC Berkeley has resisted a takeover of the Field Station cleanup by DTSC. The school plans to build a corporate/academic research park on the site.