Richmond Shoreline Condos Face Opposition By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Friday March 24, 2006

It’s a familiar story in Richmond. A developer wants to build expensive condos on what looks like a prime shoreline spot but there’s one catch. 

There’s nasty stuff in the soil. 

Unlike Campus Bay to the southeast—the site of a stalled 1,331-unit condo and apartment project—the earth on the western side of Marina Bay hasn’t been polluted by a century or more of chemical manufacturing. 

The culprit at the proposed Westshore Marina Project was a Ford Motor Co. plant that turned out cars and trucks before and after World War II and 60,000 tanks and other military vehicles during the war itself. 

If Toll Brothers has their way, the firm will build 269 condos on a unique waterfront site with choice views of San Francisco Bay, a complement to their other developments in Richmond—including Point Richmond Shores, another controversial project at Brickyard Cove. 

While both developments feature condos in mid-rise residential buildings, the builder also creates single-family home subdivisions, such as the Seacliff near Brickyard Cove—where houses are selling in the $800,000-$900,000 range—and the more upscale Norris Canyon Estate in San Ramon, with models priced between $1.8 million and $2.5 million. 

The firm is a powerful enough force in the national economy that a Dec. 8 Toll Brother’s announcement of record profits triggered a decline in the stock market because it was tempered by a statement that said 2006 earnings could be affected by an increasingly soft housing market. 


Opponents have organized against both Westshore and Point Richmond Shores projects, and the city council delayed approval of the Westshore Environmental Impact Report (EIR) after a heated hearing on March 8. 

At that meeting, critics charged that the EIR failed to adequately address a massive amount of contaminated soil found at the project site. 

The state Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) detected antimony, a toxic metal, in recent tests at the site. The site was originally cleaned up under DTSC supervision under a plan approved in 1993 and revised in 1997, which allowed for the soil to be treated by bioremediation—microbes—to eliminate petroleum-derived compounds and left on site. 

“We don’t know where the antimony came from,” said Barbara J. Cook, the DTSC’s chief of Northern California coastal cleanup, during a March 9 meeting of the Community Advisory Group, which is working with her agency on contaminated sites in the city. Antimony is used in alloys to harden metals, Cook said, and may have resulted from work at the Ford plant. 

Hot spots contaminated with lead were removed. Separate tests for antimony were not conducted at the time because the two metals are generally found together. At high levels antimony can be lethal, and at lower levels it can result in coughing, abdominal pain and dizziness. 

Cook said high levels were found in only one of the soil samples collected at the site and may have resulted from something as simple as a chip of paint. The DTSC is currently awaiting results on tests conducted after the initial discovery. 

DTSC is in the final stages of approving a cleanup plan, which will include the removal of the contaminated soil to an approved disposal site, Cook said Wednesday. 

The developer may remove additional soil as well to level the site for building, she said.  

The contaminated soil is not located in the area where the condos will be constructed, she said, but in a roadway area. The condo site remediation has been completed and the area has been certified safe for residential development. 

Sherry Padgett, a member of DTSC’s Richmond CAG, said she was concerned by the discovery of the metal, and cited other concerns raised by environmental scientist Matt Hagemann. 

A former Marina Bay resident, Hagemann noted that the project EIR failed to list the antimony findings as well as other samples that including findings of lead. He also noted that while one state document indicated that three underground oil storage tanks buried at the site had reportedly been removed, Contra Costa County records revealed no evidence that the tanks had been removed. 

Cook told the CAG she is checking into that as well. 


Point Richmond Shores 

Toll Brothers plans for Point Richmond Shores—known as Terminal 1 to the regulators at the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board—generated strong opposition and resulted in the creation of the Point Richmond/Brickyard Cove Coalition of Concerned Citizens. 

Started in 1915, Terminal One—immediately adjacent to the tip of Ferry Point at the southwestern end of the point Richmond shoreline—served ships until its closure at the end of the 1980s. 

A tank farm was also located at the site, and the combination of petrochemicals and other activity at the site left a toxic legacy of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and lead. Among the hazardous VOCs found at elevated levels in the soil were PCE, TCE, vinyl chloride, cis-1,2 DCE, petroleum hydrocarbons and benzo(a)pyrene (CQ). 

Stephen Hill, an administrative officer with the water board, said remedial work last year was conducted to remove the VOCs from the soil, though the agency hasn’t received a final report on the efforts. That cleanup involved heating the soil to drive off the vapors, which were captured by filtering devices.  

The site still contains quantities of PNAs—polynuclear aromatic chemicals—which are typically removed by excavation, he said. 

Coalition members have been engaged in a running battle with both the city and the developer, who wants to build a project more than twice the height permitted under current zoning and the general plan, said Beverly Galloway, who helped organize the group. 

Galloway’s group has just recruited a new ally in retired California Assemblymember John Knox (D-Richmond). 

Knox told coalition members that the Toll Brothers project was precisely the sort of development the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) was created to avoid. Knox was a strong supporter of the 1965 law that created commission. 

Toll Brothers wants to build an 85-foot-high project with 325 units. Current zoning would allow a maximum height of 35 feet and a maximum density of 289 units. 

The city’s Design Review Board approved a modified version of the builder’s plans in February, and the proposal will go to the planning commission in April. In the interim, Galloway and her coalition members continue to organize. 

Concerned Citizens submitted an alternative plan, which neither the developer nor the city said the were willing to consider, Galloway said. 

The coalition maintains a web site at www.cccpointrichmond.com. 

Calls to Toll Brothers were not returned.