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A Pollution Breakthrough 

Powerful new environmental cleanup regime relies on expert use of votive candles, flowers

Wednesday, Nov 26 1997
Pour poisonous gunk into the ground, let it stew for a few decades, then spend millions of dollars trying to extract it. Sounds like a recipe for lunacy, doesn't it?

Well, San Francisco has brewed up an asylum's worth of such crazy casseroles in places like Hunters Point, China Basin, Treasure Island, the Presidio -- the list goes on. Wackier still, various government agencies are spending millions of dollars on cleanup -- without ever intending to completely remove the contaminants.

To this, SF Weekly says: "Stop the madness!"
And we didn't just say, we did. We turned to consulting expert Chazz Levi, a New York floral specialist and event planner who uses scented votive candles to create unique olfactory environments for entertaining. Instead of spending millions of dollars on test wells and decades of pollution monitoring, Chazz came up with simple, inexpensive, and fun solutions for beautifying several of San Francisco's worst toxic waste sites.

With the money that Ms. Levi's environmental restoration plans can save, SF Weekly believes San Francisco should build more freeways and fewer public transport systems; uproot city museums by the handful, so they can be moved to other parts of town; buy at least three infrared-equipped helicopters to chase homeless people hither and yon; and otherwise continue the sort of lily-gilding nonsense that seems to keep San Franciscans so distracted they never demand real solutions to public policy problems.

Point Naval Shipyard
The government's solution: After decades as a repair and maintenance stop-off for the Navy's Pacific fleet, the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard is slated to become housing subdivisions, retail stores, a biotech park, and, the Navy hopes, a paper-recycling plant.

But the solvents, fuels, and other poisons deposited during the base's heyday have left the ground contaminated with heavy metals, PCBs, oil, gasoline residue, and grease, according to Department of Defense documents. The shipyard is a federal Superfund site, and will pass to the city of San Francisco during the first part of next year. By that time, the government will have spent $309 million removing contaminants, says Michael McClellan, of the Navy's cleanup team.

In some areas, workers have removed soil as deep as 10 to 12 feet and replaced it with uncontaminated landfill, McClellan says. When the job is done, he claims, "there will be some chemicals left, but they are low enough levels where they don't pose a risk."

SF Weekly's solution: Piffle, Chazz Levi says. The real task at hand is to erase the violent, military feel of the place and replace it with love. "The main thing when you're taking over a space that is a military space is, first of all, change the attitude. I think that the way to go is with passion: night bloom, gardenias, sensuous smells," Chazz says, after being shooed away from the shipyard's front gate by an overzealous guard. "These are things that are going to make people love each other and get turned on to a contact that is not combative, and is more nurturing."

Chazz would strew the base with white flowers and strategically placed "night bloom"-scented candles. "What happens in terms of its surroundings is to promote love, and that's absolutely what we need here," Chazz says.

Hunters Point's coming-out party should be a costume party, she says. "In lieu of printing place mats, I would go to the hardware store and get those little paint masks. I'd have everybody wear them, and make that be the fashion statement," she says. "Because there's nothing worse than somebody leaving an event and getting sick."

Score Card
Navy's solution:
Recycle sandblasting grit; replace soil contaminated with zinc, chromates, and other metals; remove equipment; monitor ground water.

Cost: $309 million.

SF Weekly's solution:
Install 340,322 gardenias, 55,000 assorted white flowering plants, and 554,400 large "night bloom"-scented candles.

Estimated cost: $23,498,027.
Total estimated savings:

China Basin Stadium Site
City-approved solution: With the arrival of the new millennium, San Francisco's China Basin port/industrial district will echo with the crack of bats and the roar of baseball fans at a new Giants stadium. But critters such as the S.F. Bay's native herring, seals, sea lions, birds, clams, worms, and algae won't be joining the cheers.

An environmental impact report suggests they may be endangered by tons of toxic goop the Giants plan to leave in the bay-side soil under their stadium. Critics demand that the Giants spend $5 million to replace the soil, which contains benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, zylene, lead, cyanide, and other contaminants.

The Giants say they'll protect fans from this toxic sludge by paving over the site. As for the critters, the Giants say they'll be careful not to stir up too much dust and bay-bottom silt when constructing their stadium.

SF Weekly's solution: Using her well-honed design skills, Chazz would exploit the gritty, industrial feel of the China Basin area to create an intimate, fun space for Giants fans and critters alike.

"We'd go with a 'rare amber'-scented candle. It creates a feeling of intimacy and warmth, and I think this space could use that. It's a natural fragrance, it's one that's derived of flowers, and you could definitely use some flowers and some spice in this kind of environment to make you want to stay in it," says Chazz, as she lounges on a rock pile near Test Well No. 6, which shows the ground to contain more than 3,000 times more benzene than seems reasonable.

"Rare amber is not like some of our other fragrances, which are deodorizing or passionate. I don't care what the fragrance is, I'm not going to get passionate in this room. I'm too old to screw on rocks, honey. Oh, god, I love this space. This makes me think like earthquake, with these slabs of pavement. I would definitely do a bunch of candles all over this and make a seating area."

Score Card
Giants' solution:
The anti-silt-stirring precautions the Giants propose as environmental protection are par for the course for anyone doing construction near the bay. So the Giants are essentially getting away scot-free.

Projected cost: $0.

SF Weekly's solution:
63,023 large-size rare amber-scented candles; 32,000 bouquets of assorted flowers.

Estimated cost: $2,954,385.50.

Total estimated savings:

Treasure Island Naval Station
The government's solution: Perched midway between San Francisco and Oakland, the former Treasure Island Naval Station is one of the sweetest pieces of real estate in the world. It's no wonder Willie Brown may let a Hong Kong developer build a resort there. But unbeknownst to future vacationers, Treasure Island's soil and ground water are contaminated with petroleum hydrocarbons, chlorinated solvents, metals, pesticides, and PCBs. As the former site of a fire training area, a landfill, a dry cleaning facility, fuel farms, and a service station, the island is a mess.

Since the base closed in 1993, the Navy has held "partnering" workshops with state and federal environmental agencies, drafted and updated a Community Relations Plan related to the cleanup, and done some ground water sampling, according to a Department of Defense report. The Navy has removed contaminated soil from several sites, the report says.

All told, the Navy plans to spend $89.3 million by 2001 on things like ultraviolet oxidation of ground water -- essentially pumping water through a contraption filled with light bulbs -- and bioremediation of soil -- also known as letting soil sit unperturbed in hopes that waste will disperse and decompose. The Navy's task also seems to have been aided by the magical nature of Treasure Island.

"A total of 73 USTs [underground storage tanks] have been identified, 54 of which have been removed or closed-in-place. The non-existence of the remaining 19 USTs has been verified," a Feb. 14, 1997, Navy report says.

SF Weekly's solution: Cascading, flower-laden vines, votive candles, and romantic coloring would enhance this idyllic isle's magic at a third the price.

Chazz: "When you think about Treasure Island, you think about surviving. You know, creating a uh, um -- no, not surviving, that was the other island, right? Swiss Family Robinson wasn't Treasure Island -- no, Treasure Island was where the pirates buried everything, right?"

SF Weekly: "Yes, Ms. Levi, pirates."
Chazz: "Well, we have a candle called white gingerlily frangipani. Now if you were in a hotel, wouldn't you want to order white gingerlily frangipani? So we're talking about really pampering yourself. I'm thinking in terms of pale pink and sunset tones. That kind of siesta thing where you don't have a care in the world, and you have these vistas to look at." Chazz pauses near Navy Cleanup Site 16, aka the Clipper Cove Tank Farm, which once held 500,000 gallons of aviation fuel and where unknown quantities of sludge were disposed of.

"I would think tropical flowers -- I would think bougainvillea. Waterfalls of bougainvillea. These road lamps should have climbing vines so that they just drip with bougainvillea. I'd like to see a kind of a Shangri-La feeling."

Score Card
Navy's solution:
Hold workshops, draft environmental base line surveys, remove underground storage tanks, replace contaminated soil, create a community relations plan, sample ground water, remove "floating product at Fire Training Area Site," and other tasks.

Projected cost: $89.3 million.

SF Weekly's solution:
Plant 600,430 bougainvillea vines. Install 1,324,500 large-size white gingerlily frangipani candles. Paint lamps and walkways in pale pink and sunset tones.

Estimated cost: $60,299,915.

Total estimated savings:

The Presidio
Army's solution: Back, say, 10 years ago, if a striving private played his cards right -- and kissed enough brass ass -- he could eventually ask for one of the military's two plushest assignments: Hawaii or the Presidio.

That's because, with its rolling hills of foggy redwood, bayside airfield, and turn-of-the century buildings, a transfer to the Presidio was like moving into a national park. In this spirit, the Army transferred the base in 1994 to the National Park Service, which plans to turnn it into a prime vacation destination. This is all fine and good -- for families who like vacationing amid incinerator waste, lead, asbestos, PCBs, heavy metals, solvents, and pesticides. The Army plans to spend $79.9 million by 2001 cleaning and monitoring contaminated soil and ground water at the former base. Environmentalists say dangerous chemicals will remain in the ground.

SF Weekly's solution: Chazz's Presidio makeover would take advantage of its already stunning natural beauty, while adding refreshing natural fragrances to soften the former base's military aura.

"I would use the lemon honeysuckle-scented candle," Chazz says. "The symbolism would be that it's a fresh start, and it's a clean, fresh, simple fragrance. The honeysuckle is this wonderfully invasive vine, and you could let that grow all over these ships that were there. It's the right scent to tie the true parts of the Presidio together in terms of the hillscape and the waterscape. The symbolism being: We don't need these war machines anymore."

Score Card
Army's solution:
Remove underground fuel tanks, a fuel distribution system, landfills, hazardous waste storage areas, and PCB-contaminated electrical transformers. Replace some contaminated soil. Monitor ground water for 30 years.

Projected cost: Between $90 million and $116 million.

SF Weekly's solution:
450,300 lemon honeysuckle-scented candles; 750,000 honeysuckle vines.
Estimated cost: $22,399,050.

Total estimated savings:

About The Author

Matt Smith


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