Analysis

San Francisco’s largest redevelopment project a toxic mix of environmental racism, gentrification

Liberation News  spoke with Bradley Angel, the Executive Director of Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice, about the news that a U.S. Navy-sponsored review of the radioactive clean-up at the former shipyard in San Francisco’s Bayview-Hunter’s Point revealed massive fraud by federal contractor Tetra Tech.

A historic injustice

U.S. Enviromental Protection Agency (EPA) designated the Hunter’s Point Shipyard as a Federal Superfund Site in 1989, belatedly recognizing the “risks to human health and environment”posed by the former site of the Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory.

A number of ships that were intentionally exposed to U.S. nuclear weapons testing in the Marshall Islands in the mid-1940s as part of “Operation Crossroads” returned to the shipyard at Hunter’s Point for testing and decontamination. Radioactive waste was recklessly disposed of throughout the area in sewers and drains after the “sandblasting” of irradiated ships and animal testing of radiation side-effects, as well as in dumps still present on the site which are also known to contain several other cancer-causing contaminants.

Many people were attracted to the living wage jobs provided by the shipyard. These included thousands of Black workers, many of whom had migrated from the South, reshaped the district and suffered greatly once jobs left with the shipyard’s closure. Many of their families still reside in Bayview-Hunter’s Point, under threat of police terror, gentrification, poverty and adverse health issues related to decades of Navy and industrial activity in the area.

Cover up and scandal

Tetra Tech has been commissioned by the Navy to collect data at the shipyard since 2005. According to the review, nearly half of the data produced by Tetra Tech has been manipulated, falsified, or is otherwise suspect.

The reports confirm allegations over the past several years by whistle-blowers from Tetra Tech describing how, under threat of being fired, they had been required to dispose of radioactive samples in exchange for soil from areas nearby that would meet the required standards to allow for the land to be redeveloped.

Whistle-blower testimonies have helped to bolster the grassroots campaigning and coalition-building of groups like Greenaction, that have served as long-time community-partners in the struggle. Bradley Angel, Greenaction’s Executive Director, provided the following analysis in an interview with Liberation News:

“This has literally been not just a botched clean-up, but a scandal. The Hunter’s Point shipyard was targeted by the City and the mega-developer Lennar Corporation, which is now also known as Five Point, for a massive upscale housing development, under the guise of providing much needed housing for San Francisco, which of course is needed for the low-income and working-class residents who are being priced-out of the City. But it’s really a plan to build ten to twelve-thousand homes for mostly rich and upper class people.

“So the City has really been in cahoots with the developer, and there have been financial ties, even with politicians like former Mayor Willie Brown and others. So if you talk to the City officials, they really push that line, and that goes from former Mayor Lee, to Congresswoman Pelosi, who always talked about the need for housing, except it wasn’t for the people of the City who really need it…

“Former Tetra Tech workers who worked at the shipyard spilled the beans on fake radioactive soil samples in 2014. The government ignored it, refused to investigate, said everything was fine, and allowed Tetra Tech to keep working, until the pressure on them got to be so intense that in September of 2016 the U.S. EPA and the State Department of Toxic Substances Control reached a deal with the Navy to halt all transfers of land from the Superfund site to City Hall to Lennar due to concerns about what Tetra Tech may have done. But the City, and the State, and the Federal government knew there were problems with Tetra Tech and let them keep working…

“Then they said they were going to do further investigation. They locked the public out of the investigation and set up what they called the ‘Tiger Team’ of experts, supposedly from the regulatory agencies, to find out the extent of what Tetra Tech may have done, except it turned out the meetings were held in secret, behind closed doors, at City Hall, with the developer Lennar Corporation helping to set the agenda, and no minutes ever being taken, and no technical documents being produced, and the public being barred from participating or even observing…

“It’s really been a situation where the government, on a local, regional, state, and federal level has worked to help a giant corporation make countless millions and millions of dollars despite knowing that there is a serious environment and health problem at the site…

“We see it as ethnic cleansing of the community…Third Street is already changing and if ten to twenty thousand new residents who are not the long-time people of color residents of Bayview move into this place, not only are they going to get potentially contaminated, but it will force out and completely gentrify the historic people of color community in Bayview Hunter’s-Point, but that’s what City Hall apparently wants…

“I am not a conspiracy theorist, but there has clearly been a cover-up that has now been exposed. There is silence from the politicians who push this in the last few days, and the real question to be answered is, is why did the government allow this to go on for so long, and why does this company still have a license as a federal contractor? And why haven’t they been fined one penny?”

Crimes of capitalism

The Navy has since declared that they will begin re-testing all sites where Tetra Tech was responsible for collecting data, officially saying they’ve “lost confidence” with Tetra Tech’s work. Being unable to continue working at the Hunter’s Point shipyard appears as of now to be the only consequence for Tetra Tech.

During our interview, Angel noted that, “As we speak, Tetra Tech has been allowed to keep working at Treasure Island, where low-income people of color in subsidized housing live on top of radioactive waste. And then in October of 2017, just a few months ago, the U.S. EPA issued an $85 million dollar contract to Tetra Tech to do an assessment of uranium mine contamination on the Navajo Nation, despite knowing that the faking of the data at Bayview-Hunter’s point was much bigger than previously acknowledged.”

Tetra Tech executives should be faced with criminal charges for their cover-up, but that might just hit too close to home for some of San Francisco and California’s better-known politicians who have in one way or another endorsed this giant redevelopment project and the developers behind it.

Capitalist politicians are not in the business of impeding the private property rights of developers and landlords to profit off of housing. In fact, they’re the salespeople for gentrifiers, arguing that small portions of affordable housing within giant complexes of condos and luxury apartments for the rich are real solutions towards solving the housing crisis.

While these politicians debate how many more cops they’re going to put on the street to assuage the fears of rich people having to interact with San Francisco’s homeless and poor, the last two years have seen Bayview residents Mario Woods, Jessica Williams, and Keita O’Neil faced with on-the-spot executions during interactions with SFPD, with no officers charged.

While these politicians debate how to keep California safe from the non-existent threat of nuclear attack from the DPRK, radioactive waste from U.S. nuclear tests has posed serious risk to the health and well-being of Bayview-Hunter’s Point workers and residents for more than 70 years!

Rising sea levels posed by climate change threaten to eventually engulf the hazardous waste dumps at the Hunter’s Point shipyard, while the Trump administration pulls out of international climate agreements and denies the facts altogether.

These are the crimes of capitalism.

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