After a stormy beginning, members of the citizen’s group appointed to advise the state on toxic waste issues at Richmond’s Campus Bay said Thursday night that they want a bigger role.
The meeting in the Richmond Convention Center was the first gathering of the Community Advisory Group (CAG) selected to advise the state Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) on the cleanup of Campus Bay.
Richmond activist Ethel Dotson originally petitioned the agency to form the panel to advise only on the upland portions of South Richmond Campus Bay site, where developers planned to build a 1331-unit high-rise condo and low-rise apartment complex on the edge of San Francisco Bay.
But other panel members at the meeting said they wanted their jurisdiction to include other sites as well, including:
• Restoration of the Campus Bay’s shoreline marshland.
• The still-contaminated UC Berkeley Richmond Field Station (RFS) toward the northwest.
• Investigation of potential pollution in the air around and ground beneath the so-called “downwind” business district to the southeast.
• The abandoned and potentially contaminated Blair Landfill southeast of the business district.
• The former Liquid Gold federal Superfund site east of the landfill.
• Neighboring and lead-contaminated Richmond Gun Club range.
• A former Pacific Gas & Electric maintenance facility to the north which DTSC says needs to be tested for residual contamination.
• The BioRad medical manufacturing plant west of the Field Station, which produces equipment, manufactures chemicals, distributes microorganisms and cells and other biological material.
• All or part of the Marina Bay complex to the west.
The East Bay shoreline of Contra Costa County has long been recognized as the most contaminated section of the county, a fact confirmed by the sheer scale and number of contaminated sites listed for the group by Barbara Cook, DTSC’s manager of Zeneca and RFS cleanup operations.
The meeting started with an introduction from the DTSC’s Diane Fowler, the public participation supervisor for the agency.
Controversy erupted after Anderson concluded and CAG member and Richmond City Councilmember Gayle McLaughlin moved to elect member Celeste Crystal, of the Parents Resources and More group, as temporary chair of the first meeting. She was seconded by Sherry Padgett, the spokesperson for Bay Area Residents for Responsible Development, which played a major role in organizing opposition to Campus Bay cleanup operations started under supervision of the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board.
“Wait a second,” declared Dotson. “I think we need to wait on that.”
Dotson, who grew up in housing built for African Americans on contaminated sites in Richmond, was angry because the state agencies involved in the process hadn’t informed the community group of their ongoing meetings. Her voice was so loud that several in the audience asked her to tone it down.
First to offer support was her brother and fellow CAG member Whitney Dotson, an environmental activist, who said it was “premature to appoint someone nobody knows. I am very upset with some people in the community. We can’t appoint a chair because some other things have to be dealt with.”
At that point the other CAG members rose to introduce themselves and state their principal concerns.
The 25-member panel includes two other political figures besides McLaughlin—Contra Costa County Public Health Director Wendel Brunner, who wasn’t able to attend, and Richmond Redevelopment Agency head Steven Duran, an early proponent of plans to building housing atop a massive buried chemical waste pile at Campus Bay.
Dotson, McLaughlin and Padgett have been outspoken critics of those plans, which some city officials have seen as a major new source of property tax revenue.
CAGs are given great latitude in self-organizing, with the DTSC serving only in an advisory position. Three representatives, including Crystal, come from local non-neighborhood organizations, three from the local business community, including Padgett, two from local environmental groups and 14 from local neighborhoods.
Part of Dotson’s anger was directed at the state Department of Health Services (DHS), which has been meeting with Brunner at both Campus Bay and the Richmond Field Station to assess potential health problems.
Dotson blamed both DTSC, which was present at the DHS/County Health meetings, and DHS for failing to formally notify the Community Advisory Group of their gatherings, which she said she had learned of only through newspaper accounts.
Dr. Marilyn Underwood, a DHS physician who has participated in meetings at RFS and the neighboring businesses, promised that her agency would cooperate with the CAG and provide whatever information it could, and if requested would notify advisory group members of meetings.
Since by statute the CAG’s role is advisory only, the panel can’t make decisions binding on DTSC or other agencies. The group is responsible for asking for specific information they need to formulate their opinions.
Cook and Fowler also promised to give the group what they requested, because, as Cook said, “it will help you give us the best possible advice.”
By the end of the two-hour-plus session, steps toward consensus had been taken and the group’s scope had been significantly extended. The selection of the first chair will take place during the first hour of the CAG’s next meeting, on July 28. Ô