More housing approved for Hunters Point despite contamination concerns

San Francisco has approved initial plans for the construction of more homes at the Hunters Point Shipyard, despite pending litigation over health concerns there.

San Francisco has approved initial plans for the construction of more homes at the Hunters Point Shipyard, despite pending litigation over health concerns there, and reports of fraud in the ongoing toxic cleanup of the former U.S. naval base.

Mayor London Breed and Supervisor Shamann Walton earlier this year ordered an independent investigation led by a panel of experts from U.C. Berkeley and UCSF into the cleanup of the Superfund site. Navy contractor Tetra Tech is accused of botching the radiation cleanup at the shipyard following audits by the Navy and the Environmental Protection Agency made public early last year.

No matter, The City’s Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure (OCII) Commission on Tuesday approved revised schematic designs for the development of Block 52 — which stretches roughly an acre along Kirkwood and Jerrold streets and is owned by developer Lennar Urban. The plan would bring 68 market-rate and nine below-market rate units.

The commission also on Tuesday approved 112 affordable units on Block 54, which stretches along Innes Avenue and would be developed by the agency.

Some 439 homes have already been built and 66 are currently under construction as part of Phase I of a planned mega housing and commercial development that stands to bring more than 10,500 housing units to the shipyard. The finished homes, as well as the proposed 189 units that won initial approval Tuesday, are located on Parcel A, a hilltop site that overlooks the rest of the shipyard.

Parts of the shipyard, which is a U.S. EPA Superfund site, have long been known to be contaminated with radioactive materials such as cesium-137 and radium-226, as well as asbestos and pesticides. Its dry docks once served as cleaning stations for ships exposed to atomic tests in the Pacific Ocean, and the former naval base also housed a nuclear warfare research lab.

Parcel A was the first shipyard site to undergo development because it has historically been used for housing and city and state agencies have deemed it safe.

However, environmental advocates and shipyard residents have called for retesting efforts to include Parcel A, where as recently as last fall a radioactive deck marker was found, just feet away from residents’ homes.

In May, two former Tetra Tech supervisors were sentenced to federal prison after they admitted to falsifying records and swapping out soil samples. The company has denied widespread fraud, and has placed blame on a few “rogue” employees.

The commission’s vote comes weeks after the California Department of Public Health completed “walkover scans” of developed portions of Parcel A for radioactive materials following public pressure.The state agency reported finding no hazard, but residents and advocates want soil sampling.

“We had completion and certification from CDPH that it is clean and safe for residents and the environment,” said OCII executive director Nadia Sesay on Tuesday.

But several Parcel A homeowners, who last July filed a lawsuit against Tetra Tech EC and the shipyard’s developers, claiming that they were misled about the extent of the contamination, attended the meeting and said that they did not trust those results.

“I understand that CDPH was supposed to speak with you and independent review is being done by U.C. Berkeley and UCSF. There has been very little transparency in that process, and very little community engagement,” said Linda Parker Pennington, who bought a home on Parcel A with her husband and son some four years ago.

“People moving in there now are not moving into the vision we were sold and bought into. More work needs to be done to make sure there is credibility,” added Parker Pennington. “As you move forward please know that we do not trust in the safety of where we are living right now. There has been no restitution for the health of the community of the larger Bayview, which needs to be addressed.”

Some of the commissioners shared concerns about forging ahead with new development.

“I also lived at the entrance to shipyard with my two children when the ground was first being broken,” said Commissioner Bivett Bracken. “Having that very public criminalization of members of the testing company that was hired by the Navy to do initial testing and to find out there was fraud committed, does set the community back in terms of what they can believe and the trust they have in entities overseeing the process.”

Bracken requested that the vote on the new designs be held off until the commission has had a chance to question CDPH officials, but Sesay assured her that the vote concerned “pre development work” and won’t result in any immediate site work.

“I’m urging this commission to have this move forward with the understanding that we share the same concerns — my team works there and contractors work in the community and we want closure at least from that standpoint,” said Sesay. “This is pre-development work not site work that will toil the soil, so to speak.”

Commissioner Carolyn Ransom-Scott said that “there are things we have to do so people are in homes, so that they are safe and they can live like all of us desire to.”

Construction on Block 52 is expected to begin in 2020 and conclude in late 2021, while construction for Block 54 is expected to be completed by Fall 2022.

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