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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Arc Ecology: E-Mails Between City and Lennar Aren't So Scandalous, Though 'Look Bad'

Posted By on Tue, Mar 22, 2011 at 5:29 PM

click to enlarge There's no covering THAT up.
  • There's no covering THAT up.

Arc Ecology's director Saul Bloom has reason to be bitter with the city.

Since 2006, his environmental non-profit received hundreds of thousands of dollars in city contracts to monitor and educate the public about the environmental clean-up and redevelopment work at the toxic Hunter's Point Shipyard.

But the city didn't always like what Arc Ecology had to say: Last year, the city awarded the contract to another agency after Arc Ecology had contested a plan to put a bridge over Yosemite Slough in Candlestick Point State Recreational Area. Arc Ecology is currently suing the city for free-speech violations.

If Bloom wanted the ultimate payback, now would be a perfect time to unleash his vitriol.


Yesterday Bayview community groups released scathing e-mails

that allegedly show a "conspiracy" by government officials to "cover-up

dangers" of the redevelopment project by its developer, Lennar Corp.

But Bloom isn't fueling that fire; instead he is siding mostly with the city.

But why?

Bloom tells SF Weekly that the dug-up e-mails are not as scandalous as the activists have portrayed them.

"I still didn't see anything [that] suggested to me

that the data we were getting from the [shipyard's construction dust]

monitors had been messed with," Bloom said. "The city, the EPA, and the community are talking past each

other and none of them understand each other's point of view."

The Stop Lennar Action Movement, a

coalition of Bayview community organizations, held a press conference on

Monday where it made public a string of e-mails among the Department of Public Health, the U.S. Environmental

Protection Agency, and Lennar officials.

The organization -- which got the e-mails through a records request --  pointed to excerpted

sentences from the missives, which they argued prove government agencies were altering their messages to "conceal the health threats of the asbestos-laden dust."

The EPA and DPH aren't saying squat, other than

they're investigating the allegations.  

But this isn't exactly a new issue.

In a 2008 cover story,

SF Weekly wrote about Bayview activists and their ongoing efforts -- led by the

Nation of Islam, which runs a private school next to the shipyard -- to

convince the community that the government is lying about the levels of

naturally occurring asbestos released into the neighborhood during construction at the shipyard.

Multiple government agencies have insisted that Bayview residents face no long-term health threat. Yet the activists -- presenting examples of kids with itchy

eyes and throats -- have refused to believe that they were getting the whole

truth. 

The fact that those same activists picked the e-mails

to share with the public is suspect, Bloom said.

"I know where the

press release came from, so I'm assuming the portions

of the e-mails that were extracted reinforced the argument the authors of

the press release were trying to make," he said.

One e-mail came from the outbox of San Francisco Department of Public Health official Amy Brownell. She asked Lennar for suggested language the city should use when referring to the dust monitors.

"I'm sure you will also want to change my

wording on how I portray the problems, lack of monitors, etc. Go ahead

and change any way you want." her e-mail reads. "I may change some of it back, but I'm

willing to read your versions."

Now the activists are calling for Mayor Ed Lee to fire Brownell over the e-mails.

But Bloom

said her e-mails don't really raise red flags.

The e-mail "sounds to me that if [Lennar] had a reasonable

argument, she would listen to it, but she wasn't going to misinform the

public," he said. "I don't believe, knowing Amy Brownell, she took pains

to cover-up something that she knew, in her heart, would create a problem

for public health."

In another email, the Environmental Protection Agency Region 9 Remedial Project Manager Mark Ripperda wrote a Lennar consultant, asking him about language he was using about the asbestos levels was correct. "I'm not the asbestos expert, so is this a true statement?" Ripperda writes.

Bloom said the email was "troubling with regard to judgment, although I think it's more a case of open mouth insert foot."

"Mark [Ripperda] should have gone to EPA's own internal experts rather than ask Lennar's - even just for the sake of appearances," Bloom wrote in an email to SF Weekly on Tuesday. "What Mark is doing is something almost everyone does - relying on the professional ethics of a consultant to tell him the truth about a condition."

In another email, Ripperda asks the same Lennar consultant about how to present the information about the asbestos analysis to the general public "without getting into the details of risk assessment."

Bloom notes, "Seems to me that Mark [Ripperda] is simply speaking to the need to make the conclusion technically understandable to scared people versus cooking any books."  

Still, Bloom says the tone of the emails do make the city and EPA "look bad" -- and if you hadn't spent years studying this like him to put them into context, it would make the government agencies look like they had an inappropriate relationship with the company they were supposed to be regulating.  

"People aren't wrong about being nervous about the

city's relationship with Lennar," Bloom added. "They just may not be properly interpreting it in this particular

instance."

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Lauren Smiley

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