Voted Off the Island

As some of my readers may be aware, there is presently a harebrained scheme to open the Island to development, and several ideas have been put forth by a firm which wants to turn the Island into a yuppie ecotopia, complete with high rises, green space, controlled access, and a private ferry. I’ve always been opposed to this, only more so when I moved here, so I try to keep tabs on the Treasure Island Development Authority. I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds a deep sense of irony in building a ecodevelopment on a dump.

Frequent meetings are held on the Island to talk about cleanup, development, and other community issues. On Tuesday, there was an informational meeting about the proposed cleanup in area twelve, where we live. The leasing company sent out menacing letters about relocation, so Cap’n Boysenberry and I, as house mothers of our respective residences, decided to go and get the scoopage.

It was a field trip well worth taking. Despite my profound dislike of meetings, it was very…informative. It started out with a poster display, where we could amble around talking to people. I got a chance to talk with people from the Department of Toxic Substances Control, the Navy, John Stewart Company, and the firm handling the cleanup. I also got a complete list of contaminated sites on base and their cleanup status. Oh yes. Then we got to watch some powerpoint. The military loves powerpoint. Afterwards, the floor was open to public comment.

The first and most important thing that we learned is that development on the Island isn’t going to happen for at least ten years. It’s been painted as happening much earlier, but when I talked to the General Manager she assured me that it wasn’t as big a worry. I also asked her about a buyout option, where existing residents on the Island could buy out their homes. She said that wasn’t possible because our houses are going to be destroyed, but that we would have an option to lease or buy in the proposed development.

I am still profoundly unhappy with the idea of development. I love the Island as it is, and I think it would be fun to restore the buildings to their former glory, and live here as a low income pirate rebel community. We are still not ruling out the idea of leading more aggressive action to resist the development, as it may price most of us out of homes, despite the claims of the company. But it was assuring to know that we aren’t going to be voted off the Island any time soon.

What we learned is that they are going to do some “environmental remediation” on the housing behind the scary green fences. The plan is to cleanup the area to the point where it would be safe for habitation, potentially usable as additional housing. I also learned that the place we scavenged our screens from is called, I shit you not, Halliburton Court.

The majority of the contamination is in the houses along the seawall, because waste was dumped there in previous years. The issue is that shit is buried in the ground. Shit like lead, PCBs, and PAHs. The Navy wants to get it out or at least minimize exposure, and the meeting was held to propose some alternatives for cleanup.

One and Two are known as shallow excavation, where the soil would be dug up and removed to a depth of two feet and backfilled with clean soil before being landscaped over. Alternative one leaves the existing hardscape in place, while alternative two calls for removing it. We’re looking at around eight million dollars for either of these.

Three and Four, deep excavation, involve removal of soil four feet deep and backfill, and would cost around twelve million. Three works around the hardscape, while four will remove it.

Option five is to pour concrete over the whole deal and call it good.

I favor option four, because it sounds like the deepest clean. Of course, as the authorities admitted, these plans will only work for the existing housing, which means that if and when these houses are demolished…another cleanup effort will have to be undertaken in area 12.

The cross section of people at the meeting was interesting. The large population of youth and African Americans was very poorly represented. There were a few people who seemed genuinely clueless about the fact of standard military practice around waste disposal, like the woman who was shocked that there was lead in her yard. And there were a few people who were riled up about temporary relocation.

If anyone actually bothered to read their lease agreement before signing it, they could see full disclosures about dangerous levels of toxic metals and chemicals in the ground here, for which the leasing agency will bear no liability. In addition, part of the terms of the lease with the Navy is that the Navy can relocate people temporarily for environmental cleanup. It’s annoying, sure, but don’t move to a toxic dump if you can’t take the heat, and read your damn lease agreements, kids.

32 households are going to be directly affected, although ours isn’t one of them. Some of the public comments were very astute. Cap’n Boysenberry asked about landscaping after the work was done, and what sort plans there were there. Some residents seemed more concerned about how long the interruption would be than how good the cleanup was, which was a little sad to see.

The Navy has already undertaken significant cleanup action—I’ll post a list of still active sites tomorrow. It is interesting to be living here during this phase, where things are changing rapidly and very, very intriguingly. I still do not rule out the possibility for violent revolution, is all I am saying. (Just kidding James Sullivan, Navy BRAC PMO West!)

I’m actually giving Navy props for the cleanup effort, for all my critiques. But I also think it’s important for people outside Treasure Island to understand what’s going on here, and the issues and controversies that we deal with as residents…issues which are very far away from citizens of the rest of San Francisco right now, but might become more all encompassing if the land passed into the ownership of the City, because these expensive problems are going to be passed along with the land.

[Treasure Island]