What it does
Proposition P is a non-binding declaration of policy that would declare that it is city policy that the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard be cleaned of toxic contamination to a standard which would permit any use to occur on any part of it. It requests that the Navy allocate enough money to clean the site for unrestricted use.
Four supervisors placed this policy statement on the ballot. It is supported by many community organizations in the Bayview Hunters Point area. “Community acceptance” is one of nine major criteria which federal law says must be considered before a cleanup plan is accepted. Prop. P would put the citizenry on record as wanting the shipyard to be clean enough for residential use, which is the highest standard.
Why it is on the ballot
The United States Navy built, operated and still owns Hunters Point Shipyard. The shipyard has become the most contaminated portion of San Francisco, and the only federal Superfund site in the city. The shipyard was closed in 1974. In 1991, the shipyard was placed on the list of military bases to be sold. San Francisco wants to acquire the land, has completed a plan to create a dynamic mix of light industrial, residential and cultural uses, and has selected a master developer.
Those who support this measure state:
- The entire shipyard should be cleaned to the highest standard because the city’s housing needs may require that more shipyard land be used for housing in the future.
- Passage of Prop. P will tell the Navy and federal and state regulatory agencies that San Franciscans want no compromise on health concerns for residents of the surrounding Bayview Hunters Point district and future residents and workers of the shipyard. Proponents note that Bayview residents are afflicted with the highest levels of cancer, respiratory diseases and other illnesses in San Francisco.
- In March 2000, the Navy proposed a $100 million cleanup plan, when its own cleanup estimates are over $300 million. The plan would leave significant contamination at the site, seriously impede development through onerous land use controls and deed restrictions, and transfer future site liability to the city or its developer.
- A strong statement about cleanup standards from all San Franciscans will push the regulatory agencies to strong action. Proponents say the federal government has never faced such a public policy statement from a major city regarding cleanup of a federal site.
Those who oppose this measure state:
- Cleanup standards of “brownfield sites” should be tailored to the adopted redevelopment plan. At planned industrial sites, cleanup should be to the much less expensive industrial standard. It is simply not feasible for the military to clean all bases to residential standards.
- Non-binding statements of policy do not belong on the ballot. They clutter it up, and contribute to the negative public perception of the political process.
Before reuse can happen, the Navy must meet its responsibility to clean the land of toxic substances. The city and the Navy are currently negotiating over the cleanup standards and transfer of the property. The land has been divided into six parcels, two of which are so contaminated that they are not part of this round of talks. To date, only Parcel A, which was originally a residential area and largely clean, is ready for transfer.
Military base cleanup is generally done to a standard based on what the intended reuse will be. Residential use is the highest standard, since it is assumed that young children at play will ingest dirt and any contaminants it contains. Industrial cleanup standards are lower. Where lower standards are adopted, use of the land may be restricted by fences, deed restrictions and other controls. Generally, the higher the standard, the more expensive the cleanup.
Since beginning the shipyard’s cleanup in 1978 the Navy has spent more than $160 million, but only about $50 million on actual cleanup. The rest has gone for administrative costs and studies of where and what the contamination is, some of which have had to be redone. This is part of a national pattern: the military is legally required to clean up its closed bases, an extremely expensive job which is not central to its mission. The military is reluctant to spend the money, and tends to use older technologies. There’s a history of poor oversight of the contractors who do the work. The result is that cleanup takes a very long time, is not very thorough, and is very expensive for what is accomplished.
On the other side are the cities and other agencies which want to reuse the land, and the public which lives nearby. With the histories of Love Canal and Rocky Mountain Flats in mind, they are concerned with long-term health and safety issues and are less sensitive to a cleanup’s impact on the military’s budget.
While, to some, the one-size-fits-all cleanup standard seems a bit of a reach, this measure is a sensible political strategy to gain leverage on a recalcitrant Navy, and a way to send a strong message to the regulatory agencies. SPUR believes the redevelopment plan for the shipyard should contain more and denser housing than currently anticipated. Higher levels of clean-up will make future changes in that direction more possible.
SPUR recommends a "Yes" vote on Proposition P.