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Community leaders skeptical of Newsom comments

Mayor Gavin Newsom at last week's annual 49ers pre-season luncheon.
Photos by John Han

By John Han

September 2, 2007

Bayview Hunters Point community leaders questioned the sincerity of comments made last week by Mayor Gavin Newsom during a speech he gave at the 49ers annual luncheon in San Francisco.

Following an impassioned plea by Senator Dianne Feinstein aimed at team owner John York to keep the 49ers in San Francisco; Newsom made encouraging remarks about progress of the redevelopment plan at the Hunters Point shipyard.

Senator Dianne Feinstein

49ers owner John York

"By the way, this is not just about the 49ers," Newsom said in reference to Bay View Hunters Point (BVHP) residents. "This is about providing dignity to the people that are living in conditions where prostate cancer rates, breast cancer rates, and cervical cancer rates are two to four times the state and federal average. We're finally realizing a vision to provide dignity to that community."

In addition to a new stadium, the redevelopment plan calls for a new arena, a state of the art shopping mall complex, 8500 housing units, and two million square feet of commercial space.

"And again that's not just about football, it's about the dignity of the people that are counting on us every single day to reclaim this community," Newsom said.

Newsom then praised Feinstein for $50 million in federal funds earmarked for the remediation of 27 acres of the shipyard once occupied by the U.S. Navy.

Community leaders scoffed at Newsom's comments.

"He's being driven by his political ambitions," said mayoral candidate Dr. Ahimsa Sumchai. "The mayor is acting out of his own political and financial conflict of interest in his dealings with Lennar."

Ahimsa said the mayor used the community's history of excessive health problems to justify a "dirty transfer" and accelerated development to meet the needs of the 49ers.

Sumchai grew up in the southeast sector of San Francisco in the Sunnydale housing projects, the location Newsom had sharply criticized recently for lack of maintenance during his visit there.

"He is focusing his redevelopment efforts on the Hunters View and Alice Griffith housing projects that incorporate the shipyard's plan for the stadium," Sumchai said.

Sumchai, a sports medicine physician and certified personal trainer, spent ten seasons as an emergency physician for the San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park, and five years as an elected official on the Restoration Advisory Board for the Hunters Point shipyard.

She said the shipyard's redevelopment plan as it is would be good for the city and county of San Francisco, but would cause irreparable damage to the community.

"The plan calls for the privatization of the clean up," Sumchai warned.

"The EPA would lose the jurisdiction that it has over the federal superfund site cleanup if it is transferred early into private hands. Right now the EPA has said nothing significant about Lennar's toxic dust exposure. It has the power to, but its powers are significantly weakened," Sumchai added.

According to Sumchai, Lennar Corp. has refused to release documentation related to OSHA standards for worker safety on the shipyard.

"What is being advocated here is the dirty transfer of a federal superfund site, one of the top ten most toxic properties on the national priorities list," she said.

She added that environmental hazards and regulations violations have continued during construction.

"In the last two weeks asbestos levels reported by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District have reached a high of 43,000 structures [of asbestos] per cubic meter," Sumchai said, noting that the work stoppage level is 16,000 structures per cubic meter.

Sumchai said she does not believe that the shipyard's redevelopment plan will "survive a challenge to its environmental impact review." She points to three lawsuits filed against Lennar by four African American employees, Mariposa Developers, and the Nation of Islam.

She said she did not think the clean up would be completed in time to meet 2009 deadlines.

Marie Harrison of GreenAction said her main concern is that the redevelopment plan does not have the community's best interests at stake. Harrison said Newsom will say anything to "get the community to like him."

As for the 49ers, it would make no difference to Harrison if they moved to Santa Clara since the community is "already in dire straits."

And she was skeptical about the mayor's claim that he was equally concerned about the health of the area's residents as he was about the 49ers leaving town.

"Do you honestly think that this is being built for the residents of Bayview Hunters Point?" Harrison said. "We're not stupid. If Newsom is worried about our health, why didn't he stop Lennar and test us?"

"We were asking just for the folks who live in Mariners Village around the edges of the fence," Harrison said.

San Francisco Bayview Newspaper Editor Mary Ratcliff said if environmental racism is the issue, redevelopment is not the answer. She said listening to the community's desire to determine their own destiny is the answer.

"We don't need our community privatized," Ratcliff said. "We don't need the control of it turned over to anybody. We do not need a master developer like Lennar."

Ratcliff said the U.S. Navy admitted to having spent over $400 million dollars on the shipyard's cleanup costs, yet the parcels are still not clean. She questions what Feinstein's $50 million can do that $400 million could not do.

"I think the money's been going into a rat hole, the very deep pockets of the contractors," Ratcliff said. "I don't think anybody gives a damn about us anymore than they do the people of New Orleans."





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