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Supervisors throw caution to the wind,
narrowly reject health first resolution

Supervisor Chris Daly introduced a resolution in June aimed at temporarily halting a controversial redevelopment project in the Bayview-Hunters Point district. The resolution called for a temporary halt of construction while health officials are availed an opportunity to assess an increase in health complaints related to alleged asbestos laden dust being sent airborne as a result of heavy equipment grading on serpentine rock known to contain asbestos. Supervisors threw caution to the wind, yesterday, narrowly rejecting the resolution.
Photo(s) by Luke Thomas

By John Han

August 1, 2007

San Francisco lawmakers narrowly rejected a resolution yesterday that would have temporary halted a controversial development of new homes at the Bayview-Hunters Point (BVHP) shipyard.

The resolution, introduced by Supervisor Chris Daly, called on the San Francisco Department of Public Health to issue a temporary stop work order on Lennar Corporation while health officials are availed an opportunity to properly assess an increase in health complaints stemming from alleged asbestos dust particulate matter being disrupted and released into the atmosphere due to heaving equipment grading of large swaths of earth and rock in an area known as Parcel A.

Asbestos, a known carcinogen, is a naturally occurring element present in serpentine rock at the site. According to residents, asbestos particulates are being released into the atmostphere as a result of the earth and rock grading and is being carried by swirling winds in all directions, over large distances.

Resident health complaints include nosebleeds, headaches, tear-swollen eyes and respitory afflictions including asthma and bronchitis.

"How they can say that there's no problems, and we should go forth as if business as usual is a testament to the political and financial will of Lennar," said Minister Christopher Mohamed following the vote.

Nation of Islam Minister Christopher Mohamed (center)

Mohamed is head of the Nation of Islam of Northern California and supported Daly's resolution.

"And it appears as if they have purchased silence and capitulation, not just in the political arena but even in the community among leaders of the religious persuasion," Mohamed added.

Mohamed said that the Board's decision not to pass the resolution only served to strengthen the community's movement against environmental racism and toward social justice.

Supervisor Chris Daly said Lennar was not initially recommended by city staff to be the developer of the shipyard for the city, but had the political weight to win the vote.

The project has the political backing of Mayor Gavin Newsom, Supervisor Sophie Maxwell - who represents the BVHP district - and Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

"Money talks and that's how Lennar got six votes against today," Daly said.

The hearing began with Chris Daly citing nine exceedances of airborne asbestos levels in July by Lennar. He said that asbestos levels during that time exceeded the standard of 16,000 fibers of asbestos per cubic meter.

"Only one week ago today (there were) 33,900 fibers," Daly said.

On July 2, there were 51,500 fibers per cubic meter detected by monitors on the site, Daly said.

Daly cited a study by the World Health Organization saying that increased cancer risks have been observed in communities that have been exposed to "very low levels" of asbestos.

Responding to Daly, Director of the Department of Public Health Dr. Mitch Katz said: "No, it does not pose any human health risks to develop on Parcel A."

"It's a state rock and how can you do any major construction anywhere without some release?" Katz conceded. He said that the standard set by the Public Health Department in regards to asbestos is lower than the levels used to clear a school.

"We have set levels below what we've required of a school in order to allow the students to come back in," Katz said.

San Francisco Public Health Director, Mitch Katz, M.D.

Katz stated that accumulative studies conducted at the federal, state, and local levels deemed the shipyard to be safe prior to its construction, but did not address the issue of asbestos levels being considerably higher than the Health Department's standard.

The Board listened to hours of testimony from Bayview-Hunters Point residents, many of whom have been life long residents in the area. Over one hundred people lined up for up to four hours to provide one-minute of public testimony each, both for and against the resolution. Many residents testified to health problems they attributed to asbestos laden dust stirred up by construction at the shipyard.

"Due to construction by Lennar Company, I have been hospitalized with asthma," said one high school student whose GPA suffered after succumbing to his illness.

"If the shipyard construction and redevelopment is safe, then what is the hesitation of proving it?" asked another resident.

There were pleas to the Board for what was called a "desperate situation at Hunters Point."

Some speakers said that they were from Bayview-Hunters Point, but had not succumbed to sickness.

"I've raised four children there, none of whom are sick or have ever been sick," said one mother.

Other residents testified that environmental sicknesses had impacted the community before Lennar had started construction and that Lennar could not be held solely responsible. There were also accusations that residents, who were claiming to be sick from asthma, had acquired their sickness from other causes.

There were also claims that the resolution had divided the community, forcing individuals to choose between having a job, or good health.

District 10 Supervisor Sophie Maxwell, who represents the BVHP district, was silent during the hearing.

District 10 Supervisor Sophie Maxwell

After four and a half hours, the Board of Supervisors concluded the hearing with a 6 to 5 vote in opposition to the resolution.

Supervisors Aaron Peskin, Michela Alioto-Pier, Bevan Dufty, Sean Elsbernd, Sophie Maxwell and Jake McGoldrick voted against the resolution..

Gary Banks, a pastor at Bayview-Hunters Point Community Marketplace Fellowship Church in San Francisco, said he was happy about the Board's decision. Banks said that he opposed the resolution to stop work, but supports an increase in dust monitoring as well as conducting health assessments for residents of the Bayview-Hunters Point district.

"We got the attention we needed for our community, at the same time without impeding on progress," Banks said. "It's about how to go about it in a way that's not disrupting the most disenfranchised community in the city."




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