State officials have ordered a popular after-school tutoring program to leave Richmond’s contaminated Campus Bay after officials and citizens spotted children playing in a toxic off-limits area.
The state Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) ordered Making Waves to end programs at Building 240 by July 28, with adult staff to vacate on Sept. 1.
That program offers tutoring and other educational support to children drawn primarily from 20 elementary schools in Richmond and seven others in San Francisco.
The decision satisfies calls by anti-pollution activists and the DTSC’s own Community Advisory Group (CAG), a citizen group created to offer input on the cleanup effort.
CAG members had voted on Jan. 4 to ask the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board to enforce an April 28, 2004, deed restriction that banned day care centers, schools and hospitals from operating on the 86-acre site.
Their request was denied, after both state officials and Contra Costa County Public Health Director Wendel Brunner said that tests showed no significant risks to students at the facility.
But those tests were confined to the building housing the program and an adjacent parking lot—not the decontamination site at the rear of the building where trucks had been sprayed down to remove dust generated in the excavation of contaminated soil.
It was in that area that several children were observed playing—including one who was lying down on the dusty pavement—during a June 4 site visit by state officials, a developer and a citizens’ advisory group.
That discovery occurred as CAG members, DTSC officials and Doug Moesteller of developer Cherokee Simeon were touring the site in a chartered bus.
“From the front to the back, there was an audible gasp that spread through the bus,” said Sherry Padgett, Bay Area Residents for Responsible Development’s (BARRD) spokesperson and a CAG member, describing the moment tour members spotted the youths.
“They were goofing around,” said Richmond City Councilmember Gayle McLaughlin, herself a CAG member.
“One kid kicked another one, and he fell down in the dirt,” said CAG members Simms Thompson. “It goes to show the state should’ve been monitoring them on a continuous basis.”
Lynn Nakashima, a DTSC official, ran from the bus and ordered the children back into the building. Repeated calls to Making Waves were not returned.
Campus Bay is the name created for a site that from 1897 to 1997 housed a massive chemical manufacturing complex which produced a small ocean of sulfuric acid and a host of other compounds including pesticides and herbicides.
The deed restriction, filed by Cherokee Simeon Venture LLC with the Contra Costa County Recorder’s Office, was filed as part of a cleanup undertaken during the water board’s oversight.
The water board had regulatory oversight of the property during the cleanup that followed the plant’s closure, until activists and, ultimately, the Richmond City Council asked for a DTSC takeover.
The water board had approved a plan, much criticized by activists, that permitted 350,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil and iron pyrite cinders to be buried in a 20-acre covered pit on the site.
Since the DTSC takeover, more contaminants have been identified at the site, and records have been located indicating that still others may lurk within the bayside earth and the waters that flow through it.
Cherokee Simeon planned a 1,331-unit high-rise condo and apartment complex for the main part of the site. Simeon Properties, one-half of the partnership, had already developed a corporate office park on the inshore portion of the site.
Special fans and open ventilation were planned beneath the buildings to prevent the building up of noxious vapors escaping from the soil, and gardens and the consumption of plant foods grown on the site were banned.
The developer put those plans on hold, pending the outcome of the regulatory change and new cleanup efforts.
While no one has questioned the value of the Making Waves program, the same activists who fought for the regulatory change also sought to have the program removed from the property—citing their concerns about potential toxic exposure to its more than 200 young participants.
Board chair is John Scully, an investment banker (SPO Partners & Company) who is also a principal partner in the San Francisco Giants, the largest investor in Pier 39.
According to the program’s web site, major donors include the Giants, Pier 39, the Overa Family Group Charitable Trust, the ChevronTexaco Refinery and the law firm of Morrison & Foerster.
Making Waves Foundation board member Ron Nahas, a real estate developer and the principal of a firm with properties in Richmond and Idaho, told the CAG on Jan. 4 that Campus Bay “was the only place that could accommodate our students.”
Nahas had come to the meeting after the CAG had voted a month earlier to asked the water board to enforce the deed restriction that would otherwise have barred Making Waves from Campus Bay.
Brunner, the county public health director, told the CAG at the same meeting that soil gases in the building used by Making Waves showed the presence of vapors of two noxious chemicals, benzene and tolunene—but at levels below the threshold of concern.
Benzene, the one substance linked to cancer, was found at levels where the future risk of developing cancer was rated at 7.6 in 100 million, he said.
After the January meeting, Cherokee Simeon officials sent letters to local media, charging that the CAG and the activists of BARRD with neglecting scientific evidence to “insist that the kids of Making Waves would be better off on the street.”
Two days later, CAG members sent a written complaint to DTSC Regional Branch Chief Barbara Cook. The four-page document was signed by CAG Chair Whitney Dotson, who had also been on the tour with his sister, Ethel. The Dotsons were raised in Seaport Village, a vanished apartment complex not far from Campus Bay.
DTSC responded on June 22, with a letter to Making Waves Executive Director Glenn W. Holsclaw.
After noting that the agency’s restrictions barred students from all but the building and front parking lot, the DTSC’s Barbara J. Cook said, “We were disappointed to see that the conditions were not being enforced and followed ... Because DTSC cannot guarantee that an incident of this type will not occur in the future, we regret to inform you that we have determined that the use of Building 240” is “no longer an acceptable use of the facility.”
“This is a major victory for the CAG because we finally got them to act on our request,” said McLaughlin after Thursday’s CAG meeting.
But the impact on Making Waves may be minimal. In January, Nahas told the CAG that the program planned to leave the site at the end of the summer if construction of a new facility at 860 Harbor Way South was completed on time.
Photograph by Tarnel Abbot
Boys from the Making Waves tutoring program play in a forbidden area on the Campus Bay ramp where trucks with contaminated soil had been sprayed with water to keep down the dust.