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Land Ho 

A new deal with the Navy means S.F. supervisors can finally consider accepting part of Hunters Point Shipyard

Wednesday, Feb 6 2002
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In their latest agreement with the Navy for cleaning up and transferring land at the former Hunters Point Shipyard, San Francisco officials have given up what they previously considered important leverage in order to get the Navy to do something it has promised for years -- actually investigate and disclose the contents of a century-old landfill. The move also brings the shipyard into a new political arena: the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

Mayor Willie Brown and Secretary of the Navy Gordon England signed a non-binding agreement in January to essentially begin the process of transferring the first parcel of land, known as Parcel A, to the city. Parcel A was previously used mostly as military housing and is considered the cleanest part of the shipyard. For the most part, Parcel A has been ready to transfer for a few years, but city officials had refused to take it until the Navy produced a solid plan for cleaning up the rest of the property.

Because the cleanup is governed mostly by federal laws and agencies, the city has limited say in the process. As the prospective recipient, however, the city can either accept or reject the land, a power it can use as leverage with the Navy, which needs to transfer the land to satisfy Congress' demand to close some military bases.

The former Hunters Point Shipyard is home to a stew of toxic chemicals used and discarded during 100 years of Navy operations. The shipyard also was home to a large, previously classified nuclear research facility for more than 20 years (see "Fallout," SF Weekly, May 2, 2001). Navy officials still have not produced a basewide study on the history of radiation at the site, which was due last year.

Since 1991, when Congress authorized transfer of the six parcels (A through F) -- land the city wants to develop into a mixed-use community, including housing and retail -- the Navy has spent nearly $200 million in cleanup operations without completing and transferring one of the parcels.

Last fall, Sen. Dianne Feinstein secured another $50.6 million in the Navy's budget specifically for cleaning up Hunters Point. The money, however, came with a caveat: The Navy had to sign off on a master plan for the shipyard's cleanup. This latest deal fulfills that requirement. It calls for a legal agreement by June to transfer Parcel A.

The deal also sets up a "partnership approach" that requires the Navy to share information with city and community representatives and gives watchdog organizations, including San Francisco's ARC Ecology, a seat at the table in planning cleanup operations.

More important, the transfer of Parcel A depends on getting an analysis of the landfill and surrounding areas on Parcel E, the southeast and dirtiest part of the shipyard.

"My feeling on this agreement is that Parcel E will have to be characterized before we do anything," says San Francisco Supervisor Sophie Maxwell, who represents the district that includes Hunters Point Shipyard. Maxwell previously had said she would sponsor legislation to prevent the city from accepting any part of the shipyard until each piece was cleaned "to the highest standard."

"I had a problem with Parcels E and F [the bay and sediment surrounding the shipyard] not being characterized," Maxwell says. "I felt that everything should be characterized before we do anything. This agreement says that Parcel E will be characterized."

Community members and Saul Bloom, executive director of ARC Ecology, have also said they expect an analysis of Parcel F before any deal is done.

"We need to know everything that is on that property," Maxwell says, adding that "everything" includes the landfill analysis as well as the promised radiation study, which is not mentioned specifically in the agreement.

"I want to know what is there that is immediately dangerous, what's there that is dangerous over the long run, and I want to know what we can do about it," Maxwell says.

And Maxwell may soon have a lot more clout with regard to the shipyard cleanup. San Francisco attorneys are drafting a Conveyance Agreement for the actual transfer. That agreement -- the real deal, so to speak -- must be approved by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, where Mayor Brown no longer holds a majority.

As a group, the supervisors have not played much of a role in the process, and city insiders expect the board to defer to Maxwell on the issue.

Without the board's approval, of course, there is no deal. And without a deal, there is likely to be no more political juice from Congress to make the Navy clean up its mess to a level that makes San Franciscans happy. In fact, the Navy could very well tell Congress that it was unable to come to terms with San Francisco and either sell to a private contractor or stall the cleanup operation entirely.

About The Author

Lisa Davis

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