‘It looks like the Wild West’: Industrial dust is taking a toll on the Bayview

Candlestick Heights residents report health problems due to concrete crushing in vacant lots

The wind has always whipped up the earth at Candlestick Point, a waterfront expanse at the southeastern tip of San Francisco.

But last summer, Gayle Hart noticed a new kind of dust in the air. A brown film had settled over her neighborhood. It coated her car, crept into the corners of her patio and clogged her lungs.

Some days, the flurries were so bad that her 13-year-old son was unable to play basketball at the nearby playground. “He was only out there for about five minutes,” she said. “The dirt kept coming in his eyes.”

Bayview resident Gayle Hart stands near the site across from her townhome. (Craig Lee/The Examiner)(Craig Lee/The Examiner)

Bayview resident Gayle Hart stands near the site across from her townhome. (Craig Lee/The Examiner)(Craig Lee/The Examiner)

Residents of Bayview’s Candlestick Heights neighborhood say the dust has been kicked up by concrete crushing and other industrial activity that recently has moved into the open parcels across the street from Hart’s townhouse on Arelious Walker Drive.

“Sometimes it looks like the Wild West out here,” said Tsin Fung, whose family owns an RV Park that backs up onto the sites. Large trucks hauling materials in and out of the area are making matters worse, residents say, leaving a trail of dust as they groan past homes on Gilman Avenue.

But for longtime resident Shirley Moore, who purchased her hillside home when Candlestick Park stadium still loomed in the background, the dust is the latest example of how decades of city policies have resulted in environmental and physical harm to Bayview residents, who are predominately people of color.

“We’ve lived through the 49ers. We’ve lived through the Giants. But we’ve never had it this bad until these people came out and started doing this excavation,” said Moore.

Shirley Moore looks over Candlestick Heights near her hillside home in the Bayview. (Jessica Wolfrom/The Examiner)

Shirley Moore looks over Candlestick Heights near her hillside home in the Bayview. (Jessica Wolfrom/The Examiner)

Murphy Properties Inc., the real estate management and development firm that owns the parcels, asserts that its temporary tenants, including Bauman Landscape and Construction, Inc., are not excavating the sites and are in compliance with what the land has historically been zoned for: industrial use. The company maintains that by renting these parcels to tenants in the construction industry, it is keeping the businesses building San Francisco, in San Francisco.

In many ways, Candlestick is San Francisco’s final frontier. Now that the stadium lights have dimmed and the ballpark demolished in 2015, it’s one of the last remaining places where large swaths of land lay fallow, waiting for promises of redevelopment that have been years in the making but yet to come.

In the meantime, this land — a patchwork of parcels divided between the state, The City, the port and private owners like Murphy Properties — has become a catchall for things other neighborhoods don’t want in their backyards, Moore said.

A pile of forgotten refrigerators. Heavy construction equipment. Concrete recycling operations. It’s also home to the new Bayview Vehicle Triage Center, a cordoned-off parking lot designed to house The City’s growing homeless population.

Abandoned refrigerators and other refuse can be seen near a construction site at Candlestick Heights in the Bayview. (Jessica Wolfrom/The Examiner)

Abandoned refrigerators and other refuse can be seen near a construction site at Candlestick Heights in the Bayview. (Jessica Wolfrom/The Examiner)

“We are not against people having a place to stay,” said Moore, the chair of the Candlestick Point Neighborhood Committee. “That’s not it. The ‘it’ is, if we have a problem and we don’t know what to do with it, we just dump it in the Bayview.”

Fung has seen heavy machinery, open diesel containers and people cutting I-beams with blinding sparks in the parcels and paper streets behind his business. As for the recent construction, Fung said, “they take that bulldozer and grab a pile of debris, and they’ll shake it … we don’t know where they’re getting the debris; we don’t know what they’re processing.”

Mike told NBC Bay Area that his family-run operation crushes and recycles old concrete, producing ​​40,000 tons of fresh material annually. A spokesperson for Murphy Properties added that Bauman is using The City’s old concrete to improve streets, parks and other infrastructure, including the Van Ness Avenue Improvement Project.

Many residents have complained about the dust and debris to District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), and the Department of Health. So far, the air district has issued two violations to one of the tenants for operating without a permit and another for administrative violations.

A layer of dust covers a car near an open-air industrial site at Gilman Avenue and Arelious Walker Drive in the Bayview district. (Craig Lee/The Examiner)

A layer of dust covers a car near an open-air industrial site at Gilman Avenue and Arelious Walker Drive in the Bayview district. (Craig Lee/The Examiner)

“The operator uses water on their concrete crusher, conveyors and trucks in order to mitigate dust. We are also working to control dust from roadways as well,” said Ralph Borrmann, a spokesperson for the air district.

Walton’s office did not respond to The Examiner’s request for comment.

Murphy Properties shares residents’ concern about the large trucks moving through the neighborhood, a problem, it said, that was created when The City shut down freeway access from Gilman Drive.

But disturbing the soil in Candlestick comes with other risks. The Candlestick Point State Recreation Area and the surrounding shoreline have been built over an old garbage dump initially intended to be a U.S. Navy shipyard. Before the stadium was erected, the Bayview’s marshy shoreline, isolated from downtown, was designated for brick paving, tanneries and shipbuilding.

“Chemicals don’t disappear,” said Ray Tompkins, a retired chemistry teacher and environmental activist. “When they were building that (landfill) there was no EPA, so they threw everything in there.”

More recently, the Bayview also has been home to auto wrecking facilities, steel manufacturing, junkyards and other heavy industry. Many reports show the Candlestick area has naturally occurring asbestos in the soil. Taken in total, these realities have made residents leery of the bulldozers moving into the neighborhood.

Tompkins recently measured air quality near the new construction sites and found it was thousands of times worse than even the baseline standard for poor air near the dusty parcels.

“The stuff you can see gets caught up in your mucus, your snot,” said Tompkins. “But it is the invisible stuff that I’m measuring, those finite particles 2.5 (micrometers) or smaller that gets into the bloodstream. Literally, it penetrates.”

Particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5) is not a single pollutant but a mixture of many chemical species emitted from different sources, including construction sites, unpaved roads, fields, smokestacks or fires. Long-term exposure to PM2.5 has been linked to premature death, particularly in people with chronic heart or lung diseases, and reduced lung function growth in children.

Research has conclusively shown that residents of Bayview-Hunters Point suffer higher rates of premature death and are hospitalized more than residents of other neighborhoods for almost every disease, including asthma, congestive heart failure, diabetes and urinary tract infections. The Department of Public Health has linked some of these health outcomes to greater concentrations of hazardous environmental conditions, including contaminated soil and water, industrial emissions and exhaust from motor vehicles.

Dust is also a trigger for asthma attacks, said Tompkins, who noted children at the nearby elementary school, Bret Harte, have higher asthma rates than those in other neighborhoods. “You don’t see this in the Saint Francis Wood,” he said. “You don’t see this in the Marina Green.”

(Craig Lee/The Examiner)

(Craig Lee/The Examiner)

Residents want the tenants crushing concrete to cease and desist. Some want to see these temporary uses replaced by what has long been proposed and planned for but has yet to materialize.

The City’s Candlestick Point and Hunters Point Shipyard Project, introduced in 2010, reimagined transportation, housing, retail and office space in the area. It was this vision for the future of Candlestick that inspired Hart to invest in the area.

“I want to see what was promised to us,” she said. “I want this to be a nice tourist area. I want to see the million-dollar homes that were talked about, the retail center, the movie theater. The nice waterfront. I want all that. I want Bayview to look like the Presidio, the Marina.”

While The City has delivered on the first phase with the construction of the Alice Griffith Apartments, residents and landowners say the next steps remain somewhat hazy. First, plans for a proposed shopping mall fizzled out with the emergence of e-commerce. And now, the office space slated to replace the shopping center has come into question as the pandemic has reshaped the future of work.

As a result, The City and the developer, Five Point Holdings, are reconsidering the best use case for the area, and The City maintains its commitments to the Candlestick community have not changed. Five Point Holdings declined The Examiner’s request for comment.

In the meantime, residents are left breathing the dusty air.

“I want this to not be the history of the dumping site,” said Hart. “I want San Francisco to turn it around.”

jwolfrom@sfexaminer.com

Suspected monkeypox case in California: What you should know

Health officials are working to confirm California’s first suspected case of monkeypox

California approves new water restrictions amid worsening drought

Local water agencies to reduce water use by up to 20% and prohibit watering lawns at businesses

SF budget proposal could raise SRO caseworker wages to $28 per hour

High employee turnover often worsens living conditions in San Francisco’s residential hotels. As a result, extremely low-income residents can get…