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Remediation is safe when done right

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The San Francisco Shipyard housing project by the Lennar Corporation, at Innes Avenue and Donahue Street in the Hunters Point neighborhood of San Francisco. (Dan Chambers/2016 Special to S.F. Examiner)

Success stories don’t always make the headlines. That’s especially the case for Brownfields vitalization—the revitalization of formerly impacted sites through environmental remediation into housing, parks, new businesses and jobs throughout California.

Recent reports of falsified soil testing data by Navy contractors at San Francisco’s Hunters Point

Shipyard mixed-use development site have attracted a lot of public attention and are of profound concern to the undersigned organizations.

Our primary concern at present is to inform the public that environmental cleanups done right — like the kind that will be conducted at Hunters Point Shipyard – are safe, effective, and necessary. Our thoughts are with the people impacted, but the purpose of this op-ed is to address the technical issues at hand.

The cornerstone of Brownfields redevelopment is built on science, integrity, and professionalism. On a daily basis, environmental cleanup is performed in compliance with local, state and federal regulations all around the region and the state. Done correctly, environmental cleanup is protective of human health and of soil, air and water.

The success of Brownfields is the success of many of our communities, our parks, and the engine that drives land cleanup for industry, business and environmental quality

Indeed, environmental cleanup is a necessary part of modern development. The Bay Area is 20 percent urban, and most land that is being developed today into housing, parks, commercial and office space was previously used for something else. This is the story of our cities and towns: as the economy changes, so to do the demands for different land uses. For example, not so long ago many waterfront locations were the site of heavy, polluting industries. Today, we recognize waterfront land as a valuable and desirable place for people, commerce, environmental quality, and recreation.

Making this land safe for reuse requires cleaning up contaminants like oil and gas, asbestos, solvents, volatile gases, and heavy metals like lead and cadmium, and this has happened at countless sites throughout the region. Examples abound in Silicon Valley, where agricultural impacted soils and first generation technology impacted groundwater; San Francisco, where historic industrial impacts and Bayfill complicate redevelopment; Richmond, where the effects of the Rosie-the-Riveter war effort can be seen in the soil; and Oakland, where 100+ years of industry is being cleaned-up for new communities, jobs, and open space.

Crissy Field offers a particularly relevant comparison to Hunters Point. Used as a dump from the time of Spanish settlement, the area was paved in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and used by the Army for everything from a rifle range to industrial uses. In the late 1990s, the remediation of Crissy Field began, cleaning up heavy metals, oil and gas, and pesticides that contaminated groundwater and soil. By the time the area reopened in 2001, 40 acres of pavement had been removed and thousands of native plants had been added to restore natural habitat. Crissy Field is a redevelopment success story, and today, few can imagine San Francisco without it.

Amidst a severe housing crisis, infill development is a primary tool for San Francisco and the Bay Area to bring new homes to a region that desperately needs them. Recycling land prevents exposure to pollutants, protects the environment, and helps make possible the walkable, bikeable, healthy and connected communities that we want for ourselves and our children.

Sustainable land use starts with land reuse.

We must recognize that when remediation is done right, it is safe and desirable. Our region needs to continue to put all existing land within the Bay Area to its highest and best use. We urge elected leaders and their communities to understand infill development and environmental remediation as solutions – not threats – that will make a healthier future for the Bay Area possible.

Signed,

Bay Area Council, Center for Creative Land Recycling, Center for Public Environmental Oversight, Center for Sustainable Neighborhoods, East Bay Leadership Council, Greenbelt Alliance, San Francisco Housing Action Coalition, Silicon Valley Leadership Group

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