By Shana Okuda
I first got involved with Heron's Head Park (HHP) while working on an honor's option in my ecology class at CCSF, which was earlier this year in February. I was initially approached with the idea of bird watching at HHP; however, when the orientation meeting came along, there was also an oral history option, which I opted for because of time constraints. Another big factor in choosing the oral history option was to work with people and to hear their stories about a community I rarely find myself visiting.
In the course of interviewing members of and from the Bayview and Hunter's Point (BVHP), I discovered within their stories a Herculean task presented itself--their struggle to hold the city of San Francisco accountable for their continual under-regulating and waste producing practices. A few members of the community are fighting for the entire zip code of 94124 to protect their families, friends, and especially the children from the city's negligence and inhumane policies. Throughout the course of these interviews, three points became clear in this story: community member advocates are up against those with high standing positions, unlimited resources, and lack a conscience.
While interviewing Ms. Espanola Jackson, a 71-year-old long time resident of BVHP, she revealed the connection between San Francisco Commission on the Environment (CE) and Literacy for Environmental Justice (LEJ). Ms. Dana Lanza, the Executive Director of LEJ, is married to Parin Shah, the former President of CE. While being married is not an issue, the fact that the CE approved the San Francisco Environment (SFE), a city agency, to issue funds amounting to $13.6 million dollars from the PG&E settlement paid towards the community of 94124, to the non-profit group of LEJ is of some controversy. This money is meant for those residing in the zip code 94124, and it was paid as reparations, as Mr. Da Costa noted, to " . . . the children and those adversely affected from the power plants Mirant and Hunter[']s Point . . ." in this community. LEJ plans to find another site in the zip code of 94134 to create a learning classroom; finding another site in a different location is caused by the fact that there is not an acceptable site in 94124, not with over 412 toxic waste sites and Brownfields, underground storage tanks for radiological/toxic waste, scattered throughout the area of this zip code. With a visit to City Hall to check on public records, it was found that Dana Reid Lanza is married to Parin Surendra Shah as of 24 August 2002 and was recorded 24 October 2002. The document number is 2002-38-0005220-00, which is not a confidential file and is available for public viewing.
Initially, when I tried to make contact with Mr. Francisco da Costa through LEJ, an unidentified man from the LEJ office diverted my attention and told me to speak to Ms. Jackson; he further told me that Mr. Da Costa was not a member of the community, and therefore he was not someone to speak to. In my interview with Mr. Francisco da Costa, founder of Environmental Justice Advocacy and a representative of the Muwekma Ohlone (the First People of the Bay Area), Mr. Da Costa has actively been preventing any development from happening in the area because the toxicity is hazardous to residents' health. In searching for furthering information independently, I found a number of sites supporting his claims. Further information on his cause may be found on his website, eww.franciscodacosta.com.
In a response to Mr. Da Costa's reply to my interviewing him, which he carbon copied to Ms. Lanza, Ms. Lanza sent an e-mailed to me, "I advise you to dis-regard [sic] any information that you have received from him as it is inflammatory and untrue." Additionally, she noted that he had no support from the community; however, Ms. Jackson and Mr. Lynne Brown, residents of the area, referred me to him as "being the one to speak to." With this, Ms. Lanza added, "I strongly urge you to contact myself or Carol Bach from the Port of SF. Either of us can provide the results of the most recent soil samples collected at the Park during summer 2003." In my attempts to search for further information regarding these test results, nothing of this fore mentioned collection could be found on the Internet. Both Ms. Lanza and Ms. Bach seem to be filtering or controlling the release of this information to the general public.
In a forwarded e-mail from my professor regarding the toxicity of HHP, Ms. Carol Bach, Assistant Director for Environmental Health and Safety at the Port of San Francisco, minimized her answers with leading questions. For instance, with her response to, "Has the port done any soil investigations lately?" Ms. Bach stated, "We found ammonium mainly in the western portion of the park and when we constructed the park in 1998, we covered this portion with a geosynthetic clay liner and 1.5 to 3 feet of soil to minimize infiltration of rain water through the underlying fill." With the follow-up question, "So just to clarify: this is kind of a plastic cover that prevents toxins from leaching into the bay and has nothing to do with protecting the park itself from toxins in the ground?" Ms. Bach's reply was, "Yes, that is correct." Her responses eliminate the problem through the use of leading questions and by down playing the truth of the answers. What Ms. Bach described is merely a Band Aid considering what Chronicle staff writer, Ms. Rachel Gordon reported on March 23rd of this year: Mr. Saul Bloom, executive director of Arc Ecology, a public interest nonprofit environmental group that has been closely involved in the Hunters Point shipyard estimated that cleaning up the base in preparation for development would cost in excess of $500 million.
In comparing the two parties, those for developing the area, LEJ and the SF Port versus those who live in the community and want hold the policy makers accountable for the state their neighborhood is in, information is the key. Ms. Bach and Ms. Lanza refer to each other as sources to contact regarding any issues concerning HHP and have not made test finding reports available on-line. On the other hand, Ms. Jackson, Mr. Da Costa, and Mr. Brown provide a multitude of resources. Mr. Da Costa has a web site dedicated to his cause and concern for BVHP, and Mr. Brown is continually e-mailing me on a daily basis about any and all developments regarding 94124.
I have considered submitting these findings to Mayor Newson for him to take care of; however, with the recent information received from Mr. Brown, founder of Community First Coalition, and Mr. Da Costa. I've reconsidered because of Mayor Newson's tie with, as The Arizona Republic reported on Nov. 19 2001, the third largest housing developer in the USA-Lennar BVHP LLC, whose mother company is based in Houston, Texas, and is the responsible cause for fraudulent allegations across the country. Lennar made campaign contributions to Mayor Newson, and this information is available through the Ethics Commission. Now, Lennar plans on developing the Radiological toxic Shipyard in Hunters Point, 94124. How is a problem supposed to be taken care of when there's the possibility of corruption laying in the very hands of those who are supposed to be handling it in the first place?
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