City moving ahead with contested transformation of India Basin

As Mayor London Breed announced a $25 million donation on Tuesday that will help pay for environmental remediation at the India Basin shoreline, advocates protested nearby, warning that pollution from a planned waterfront development will further burden an already at-risk community.

A gift from the the John Pritzker Family Fund, the grant is among the largest donations ever received by The City for open space improvements. The money will help initiate the planned transformation of the decrepit shoreline into India Basin Park, which includes new piers and 14 acres of public open space along the waterfront.

The park was approved in August as part of the India Basin Project, which includes 1,575 housing units and 200,000 square feet of commercial space, spearheaded by Build LLC.

Breed hailed the park and planned development as the fulfillment of a long-forsaken promise of equity and environmental justice made to the residents of the Bayview Hunters Point. The predominantly black community for decades has wrangled with issues including economic neglect, displacement and lingering radioactive and toxic contamination at the Hunter’s Point shipyard.

“San Francisco is committed to transforming this community — not for the people who are going to move here but for the people who live here,” said Breed, standing on a forlorn stretch of the shoreline at 900 Innes Ave. that once served as an industrial ship building yard. “Part of the restoring of this open area is to make sure that the neglect that has occurred for far too long is remedied.”

But the project has faced two separate appeals — one from a neighborhood bathhouse, and another from the watchdog group Greenaction for Health and Envrionmental Justice — challenging the adequacy of an environmental impact study conducted by The City for the development, citing known issues with pollution and contamination at the site and nearby at Hunters Point Shipyard.

Advocates have called on The City to reduce the size of the planned India Basin residential development, which as proposed would have unmitigatable and long term impacts on air pollution, the environmental study concluded.

The Board of Supervisors rejected the appeals in October. In December, Archimedes Banya, the bathhouse, sued The City in an effort to put the project on hold.

“We oppose the Build LLC project on gentrification grounds, but nothing is more important than health,” said Bradley Angel, Greenaction’s executive director. “It is the last thing this neighborhood needs — we are right by the shipyard, the old PG&E power plant is there, and people have suffered enough.”

Carrying signs that read “Healthy Parks, Yes! Air Pollution, No!” advocates with Greenaction and the Hunters Point Mothers and Fathers Committee gathered at the shoreline on Tuesday, alongside city officials and supporters of the project.

Angel said that his group supports the shoreline “cleanup and clean healthy open spaces,” but criticized Build LLC development for its projected impacts on air quality.

“It would be bad enough if [the air pollution] was only during construction, but the [Environmental Impact Report] concluded that it would be during construction and ongoing during operations after, and that is simply not OK,” he said.

On Tuesday, Breed said that the grant will fund the park project’s “initial phases,” including design, remediation, community engagement and a portion of construction. A total of $120 million is needed to see it through completion, which will be sourced from private and public funding, according to Breed.

Asked about the concerns over the planned housing development, Breed said, “What do you want us to do, nothing? The fact is we are doing something.”

“You didn’t see a lot of people spending any time or resources trying to fight to make this a better community in the past, but we have an opportunity to do that now and that’s what I am planning to do,” she said.

According to Recreation and Parks Department General Manager Phil Ginsburg, remediation efforts will begin “immediately” and are expected to conclude by 2021.

“The first phase of this project …is to make sure the land and water are clean and healthy and only then do we move on to construct the park,” he said, adding that The City plans to include the local community in the remediation, cleanup and future stewardship of the waterfront park.

“There are 2,500 units of affordable and public housing within one mile of where we are standing — we want this space for that community,” he said.

But some residents of the Bayview remain wary of the plan.

“It’s already toxic here. They can start cleaning up or whatever, but they shouldn’t even open it up as a park,” said Bayview resident Leotis Martin. “As bad as our health is, to come in and clean it up will cause even more health risks, and probably new ones, to the people who are already impacted. Human lives come first.”

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