The heated battle over the cleanup and development of the heavily polluted South Richmond site of a chemical manufacturing complex heads to a higher venue Saturday.
Assemblymember Loni Hancock and fellow legislators will conduct a formal hearing at UC Berkeley’s Richmond Field Station, one of two adjacent properties that housed the plants. The hearing runs from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Building 454 of the Field Station, 1301 South 46th St. The site is west of the I-580 Bayview exit.
The immediate focus of the hearing is the cleanup of polluted muck from a portion of the bayfront Stege Marsh on property owned by Cherokee Simeon Ventures, a consortium which plans to build a 1,330-unit housing complex atop a buried toxic waste dump.
“I am very interested in two things,” Hancock said Thursday. “First, that the cleanup now underway is conducted safely and that the concerns of the community are answered, and second, what, if any, new legislation is needed to insure that the proper procedures are in place to secure the best results for the public.”
Nearby property-owners, businesspeople and area residents have complained repeatedly that the ongoing cleanup has been poorly managed, resulting in potential exposures to hazardous substances.
Contra Costa County Public Health Director Dr. Wendel Brunner played a leading role in initiating the hearing, expressing particular concerns that bureaucratic turf wars were hampering the cleanup and citing a lack of concern for community anxieties.
Community activists have consistently complained about dust escaping from the site, both during the current cleanup and during the larger operation two years ago that concentrated on the inland portion of the Campus Bay site.
Tighter controls have been ordered for this phase of the cleanup after neighbors mobilized and one group, Bay Area Residents for Responsible Development (BAARD), retained legal counsel.
While overall responsibility for supervising the site rests with the Bay Area Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB), Brunner and neighbors have asked that control be transferred to the state Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), which is regarded by many as more rigorous.
On at least three occasions over the last 10 days, dust at the site has been detected at levels above the figures set for remedial action by the DTSC, which are ten times more stringent than levels set by the RWQCB.
Hancock’s hearing will focus in part on the issue of jurisdiction, the role of public participation in the cleanup process, the status of current operations at the Campus Bay project, and the future of the site itself.
The session is jointly sponsored by the Assembly Environmental and Toxic Materials Committee, chaired by John Laird, and the Select Committee on environmental justice, chaired by Cindy Montanez. Both legislators are scheduled to attend.
Montanez has conducted hearings in Southern California on site cleanups supervised the Regional Water Quality Control Boards there, Hancock said.
“We also want to determine how the supervising agency is picked, if it’s done by the developer or by the California Environmental Protection Agency,” Hancock said.
Another concern is the proposed change of use from an industrial park to concentrated housing. Brunner and others have raised concerns that the requisite remediation standards for the two types of development, with permanent residency triggering significant lower levels of permissible exposures.
Cherokee Simeon has proposed installing fans that would blow air beneath the residential structures to prevent concentrations of volatile organic compounds buried on the site.
“We want to address how changes in end use trigger reexaminations of how remediations have been conducted,” Hancock said.
Richmond city officials, reeling under a massive debt load and eager for tax revenues, have made no secret of their desire to see the housing project built, and Cherokee Simeon has emerged as a significant player on the Richmond political scene, contributing $2,500 each to four incumbent candidates in the just-concluded city council election.
Three of the developer’s candidates won, all incumbents, including top vote-getter Tom Butt, Mindell Penn and Nathaniel Bates. The other recipient, Gary L. Bell, lost. Gayle McLaughlin, the other winner, is a member of the Richmond Progressive Alliance, which has been critical of corporate influence on municipal government.
Richmond officials are expected to attend the hearing, said Michelle Milam, the member of Hancock’s staff who has been organizing the session.
Among those currently scheduled to testify are:
• A top official of Cherokee Simeon.
• County Health Director Brunner.
• Bruce Wolfe, executive director of the RWQCB.
• Barbara Cooke of the DTSC.
• Richmond City Planner Barry Cromartie.
• Sherry Padgett of BAARD.
• Jane Williams of California Communities Against Toxins.
• Marlene Grossman of Pacoima Beautiful.
Citizens and other stakeholders will also have the opportunity to testify during a public comment session, and Milam said she expects UC officials to attend as well.
After a reporter advised Hancock earlier this week that a sizable hole had been cut into the fence surrounding the marsh excavation, her office has contacted Rick Brausch of the state Environmental Protection Agency to determine who is responsible for maintaining the site perimeter.
While the marsh cleanup hearings are underway indoors at the Richmond Field Station, another marsh action will be happening outside.
The Bayshore Stewards are conducting a restoration of native plants in the previously cleaned-up section of Stege Marsh on the UC property.
Volunteers will be setting out native plants along the edge of the marsh to restore the breeding and nesting habitat of the endangered clapper rail shorebird.
Program coordinator Elizabeth O’Shea said rain gear, tools, gloves and refreshments will be provided.
For further information call 231-9566.